US job gains point to stronger recovery

Extra 288,000 jobs in June continue ‘textbook’ recovery but analysts ask when growth will start to lift wages.

President Barack Obama has said job growth in June shows the recovery is taking hold. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama has said job growth in June shows the recovery is taking hold. Photo / AP

The 5-year-old US recovery is gaining momentum from a surprisingly robust job market and moving the economy closer to full health.

Employers added 288,000 jobs in June and helped cut the unemployment rate from 6.3 per cent to 6.1 per cent, the lowest since 2008. It was the fifth straight monthly gain above 200,000 - the best such stretch since the late 1990s tech boom.

The stock market signalled its approval. The Dow Jones industrial average surged 92 points to top 17,000 for the first time.

The breadth and consistency of the job growth are striking in part because of how poorly the year began. The economy shrank at a steep 2.9 per cent annual rate in the January-March quarter as a harsh winter contributed to the sharpest contraction since the depths of the recession.

Yet employers have shrugged off that setback. They've kept hiring.

The unemployment rate dipped from 6.3 per cent in May to its lowest level since the financial crisis struck with full force in the fall of 2008, when the Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

"This has now become a textbook jobs expansion," said Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at the consultancy CohnReznick. "It is both broad and accelerating."

At least one nagging doubt is dampening the enthusiasm: Can the stepped-up hiring lead to higher incomes? Wages have yet to outpace inflation for most workers. Eventually, analysts say, the falling unemployment rate should cause pay to rise more sharply. But no one knows when. The jobs report did make clear that, five years after the recession officially ended, the US economy is showing more vitality even as major economies in Europe and Asia continue to struggle.

Last month's solid hiring followed gains of 217,000 jobs in May and 304,000 in April, figures that were revised upward by a combined 29,000. Over the past 12 months, the economy has added nearly 2.5 million jobs - an average of 208,000 a month, the fastest year-over-year pace since 2006.

Economists say the steady US hiring should fuel more purchases of goods from Asia and Europe and strengthen those economies at least slightly. Much of Europe is suffering from high unemployment. And China is trying to moderate its economy's growth without slowing it too much.

"If we have some momentum going into the second half of the year, it helps the world economy because we're big consumers," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services.

Several other signs point to the economy's brightening health. Vehicle sales rose at the fastest pace in eight years in June. Factory orders picked up last month, and home sales strengthened.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 23 Aug 2014 13:04:25 Processing Time: 713ms