WASHINGTON - For the first time since 1999, American employers have added more than 200,000 jobs a month for four straight months, offering more evidence that the U.S. economy is steadily growing while much of Europe and Asia struggle.
Last month's gain of 217,000 jobs means the economy has finally recovered all the jobs lost to the Great Recession. And it coincides with indications that American consumers have grown more confident. Auto sales have surged. Manufacturers and service companies are expanding.
"I don't think we have a boom, but we have a good economy growing at about 3 percent," said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo. "We're pulling away from the rest of the world."
In this April 23, photo, Luke Gill, of Quicken Loans, left, talks with job candidate Jasmine Boykins at a job fair at the Matrix Center in Detroit. The government issues ist May jobs report on Friday.
Still, Friday's report from the Labor Department showed that pay remains subpar for many workers, millions who want full-time work are still stuck in part-time jobs and the number of people out of work for more than six months remains historically high.
Monthly job growth has averaged 234,000 for the past three months, up sharply from 150,000 in the previous three. The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey, matched April's 6.3 percent, the lowest in more than five years.
Investors seemed pleased. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 88 points.
Though the economy has regained the nearly 9 million jobs lost to the recession, more hiring is needed, because the working-age U.S. population has grown nearly 7 percent since the recession began. Economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimate that 7 million more jobs would have been needed to keep up with population growth.
In addition, average wages have grown only about 2 percent a year since the recession ended, well below the long-run average annual growth of about 3.5 percent.
And unemployment has fallen from a 10 percent peak in 2009 partly for an unfortunate reason: Fewer people are working or seeking work. The percentage of adults who either have a job or are looking for one remained at a 35-year low in May.
Yet the United States is faring far better than most other major industrial nations.
Overall unemployment for the 18 countries that use the euro, for example, was 11.7 percent in April, though some European nations, such as Germany and Denmark, have much lower rates. On Thursday, Europe's central bank cut interest rates and took other extraordinary steps to try to boost ultra-low inflation, encourage more lending and jump-start growth.