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The U.S. economy continued a strong summer, adding 209,000 jobs in July while the unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent, the lowest since March 2001, according to a government report Friday.
Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected the report to show growth of 183,000; the unemployment rate met expectations. A more encompassing rate that includes discouraged workers and the underemployed was unchanged at 8.6 percent.
The number of employed Americans hit a new high of 153.5 million thanks to a surge of 345,000. The employment-to-population ratio also moved up to 60.2 percent, tied for the highest level since February 2009.
Stock market futures liked the news, rising to indicate a positive open, while government bond yields also moved considerably higher.
"Kind of an all-around strong headline number," said Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Bank. "More people are coming into the labor force and finding jobs. It's difficult to find anything really negative in the report."
The closely watched wage number was unchanged from previous months, with average hourly earnings up 2.5 percent on an annualized basis. The average work week also was unchanged at 34.5 hours.
Bars and restaurants provided the biggest boost for the month with 53,000 more positives, while professional and business services contributed 49,000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
In addition to the strong July report, June's 222,000 gain was revised up to 231,000 though May was cut from 152,000 to 145,000.
Significant job gains also came from health care, with 39,000.
"This is an unambiguously positive jobs report, as it suggests that consumers will have the wherewithal to increase spending (with solid job gains and faster wage growth) and that inflation may be slowly pushed higher by tighter labor and product markets," said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide.
If there was a blemish in the month's numbers, it came from the distribution of jobs to lower-income sectors. Job creation was strongly titled to part time, which gained 393,000 positions, while full time fell by 54,000.
Those counted as not in the labor force fell by 156,000 to 94.7 million while the labor force itself surged by 349,000 to 160.5 million.
The report comes with the economy at a crossroads. While job gains have continued apace during the Trump administration, wage increases have remained tepid as the president has promised growth closer to 3 percent than the average 1.9 percent so far this year.
President Donald Trump was quick to react, praising the numbers as indicative of stronger growth.
In addition, the Federal Reserve is watching the numbers closely, particularly for wage increases. The central bank has indicated it plans one more interest rate hike this year as well as the beginning of its program to unwind the bond portfolio it accrued while trying to stimulate the economy out of the financial crisis.
Indeed, traders increased the chances that the Fed moves again before the end of 2017. Chances of a move at the December meeting are now just above 50 percent.
"If the labor market continues to tighten over the coming months, as the survey evidence suggests it will, the Fed will press ahead with rate hikes and balance sheet normalization later this year," said Michael Pearce, U.S. economist at Capital Economics.