PREVIEW-In positive sign for U.S. economy, hiring seen holding up
* Non-farm payrolls expected to rise 184,000 in June
* Jobless rate seen dropping to 7.5 percent from 7.6 percent
* Economy seen picking up, Fed on track to taper bond buying
WASHINGTON, July 30 (Reuters) - U.S. employers likely hired enough workers in July to push the jobless rate to near its lowest level in more than four years and bring the Federal Reserve within months of paring back a major economic stimulus program.
Data due on Friday is expected to show payrolls outside the farming sector increased by 184,000 positions during the month, according to economists polled by Reuters.
That would mark a slight downshift from June, but would keep in place a trend in which the pace of hiring has appeared unfettered by a stretch of weak economic growth.
Indeed, another month of robust hiring would support the view that rising incomes will help the U.S. economy return to stronger growth between July and September.
"Third quarter growth (is) getting off to a good start," economists at UBS said in a note to clients.
The unemployment rate is seen dropping a tenth of a point in July to 7.5 percent, matching the rate in April of this year, which was the lowest since December 2008.
The economy grew at a lackluster 1.8 percent annual rate in the first quarter and a report on Wednesday is expected to show even slower growth in the April-June period.
However, most economists see growth picking up in the second half of the year.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers earlier this month the economy will likely improve enough by the end of 2013 for the U.S. central bank to begin reducing its monthly bond purchases, which are aimed at pushing down borrowing costs to spur stronger investment and hiring.
Many Wall Street economists expect the Fed will begin to curtail these purchases in September, and payroll growth in July would have to fall very short of forecasts to change that view.
"Anything close to the consensus range, which looks like 170,000 to 200,000, keeps the momentum toward a September Fed tapering," said Robert DiClemente, an economist at Citigroup.
The Labor Department will release the employment data at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) on Friday.
Despite the broadly positive tone expected in the report, analysts will also be looking for possible signs that Washington's policies are hurting the labor market.
Federal budget cuts enacted in March have led government agencies to slash the hours worked by employees. A White House official said on Monday that the Defense Department furloughed 650,000 workers in July, which could lead to an expansion in the ranks of part-time workers.
Some 5.7 percent of Americans who had jobs in June couldn't get enough hours to qualify as full-time workers. The ratio has been largely unchanged over the last year.
Some of the strength in hiring expected in July could be due to humming output in the auto industry. With auto production at its highest level in more than five years, some plants have forgone the summer shutdowns that usually leave workers idle for several weeks.
Manufacturing payrolls are expected to increase by 1,000, snapping four consecutive months of job losses in the nation's factories.
All the anticipated job gains in July will likely come from the private sector, where payrolls are expected to have increased by 189,000.
Other details of the report are expected to show average hourly earnings rose by 0.2 percent, easing back from the 0.4 percent jump in June. The length of the average workweek is expected to have held steady at 34.5 hours.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Chris Reese)