America’s hiring spree kicked into full gear in June as the economy added more than 200,000 jobs for the fifth month in a row, according to government data released Thursday.
The streak is the longest since the late 1990s and provides convincing evidence that the recovery has rebounded after unexpectedly shrinking during this year’s harsh winter. The Labor Department reported 288,000 net new jobs were created in June, and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.1 percent.
The stock market signaled 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 percent 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 U.S. job gains in June were widespread. Factories added 16,000 workers, retailers 40,200. Financial and insurance firms increased their payrolls by 17,000. Restaurants and bars employed 32,800 more people. Only construction, which gained a mere 6,000, reflected the slow recovery of previous years.
Local governments added 18,000 education workers. But that might have been a quirk.
“Many schools that had been closed for snow days stayed open longer than usual in June,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.
Over the past three months, job growth has averaged a healthy 272,000. And in May, the economy surpassed the jobs total from December 2007, when the Great Recession officially began.
Researchers at the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimate that 6.7 million more jobs would have been needed to keep up with U.S. population growth.
“We’ve seen hiring growth out of the winter because it was stagnant,” said Richard Bitner, vice president of marketing for Visiting Angels, a home health care services firm headquartered in Havertown, Pennsylvania.
Most economists say annualized economic growth likely reached a solid 3 percent to 3.5 percent in the April-June quarter. Growth over the entire year should be about 2 percent, they say, similar to last year’s 1.9 percent expansion.
Several other signs point to the economy’s brightening health.
Auto sales rose at the fastest pace in eight years in June. Factory orders picked up last month. And home sales strengthened this spring after having sputtered in the middle of last year when higher mortgage rates and rising prices hurt affordability.
Numbers released by the Department of Labor on Thursday reflected those released Wednesday by ADP, the country’s largest payroll company. The country added 281,000 jobs according to that report.