WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers accelerated their hiring last month, adding a robust 288,000 jobs and helping drive the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, the lowest since September 2008.
It was the fifth straight monthly job gain above 200,000 — the best such stretch since the late 1990s tech boom. 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 mid-2006.
Thursday's jobs report from the Labor Department made clear that the U.S. economy is moving steadily closer to full health after having shrunk at the start of the year. Growth is picking up even as many major economies in Europe and Asia continue to struggle. On Thursday, the European Central Bank kept interest rates unchanged despite signs that the 18-country eurozone economy is losing momentum.
June's healthy U.S. job gain followed additions of 217,000 jobs in May and 304,000 in April, figures that were both revised upward. Monthly job gains so far this year have averaged 230,833, up from 194,250 in 2013.
Investors appeared pleased by the news. When stock markets opened Thursday, an hour after the government released the jobs report, the Dow Jones industrial average traded above 17,000 for first time. By 10 a.m., the Dow had risen about 65 points.
The unemployment rate dipped last month from 6.3 percent in May to its lowest level since the financial crisis struck at full force in the fall of 2008 with the bankruptcy of the Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers.
"Since February, 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."
Economists say it's too early to tell whether the steady U.S. job gains will fuel more purchases of goods from Asia and Europe and help strengthen their economies. Much of Europe is suffering from high unemployment. And China is trying to manage an economic slowdown and what analysts say was excessive investment in real estate.