Washington (AFP) - The US economy generated 209,000 new jobs in July, down from June but maintaining a solid 200,000-plus monthly streak since February, the Commerce Department said Friday.
The unemployment rate rose by 0.1 points to 6.2 percent, but it remained near its lowest level in nearly six years and well down from 7.9 percent at the start of 2013.
It was the first time since 1997 that the economy had added more than 200,000 jobs a month for six months straight.
New jobs were well-spread between the construction, manufacturing, professional service and retail sectors, and got a boost as well from 11,000 new jobs in the government sector.
Nevertheless, the number of unemployed rose by nearly 200,000 to 9.67 million, in part because of the constant increase in the number of working-age Americans, as well as a return to the labor force by tens of thousands of people who had dropped out and were not previously counted as unemployed.
Harm Bandholz of UniCredit pointed out that the return of dropouts has added more than a half-million people to the labor force over the past six months.
"This is fundamentally a very positive development, even as it puts some upward pressure on the official jobless rate," he said.
- 'Clearly getting stronger' -
President Barack Obama lauded the report as another sign that the economy is "clearly getting stronger."
"Companies are investing, consumers are spending. American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos, all are booming," he said.
But he complained that Congress, led by his Republican opponents, has stymied attempts to build on the recovery by obstructing measures to favor job growth and higher incomes.
"There are steps we could be taking that would result in more job growth, higher wages, higher incomes, more relief for middle class families," he said.
Despite the gains, the July jobs data showed continued weaknesses that underscored Obama's call for more support for the economy.
Average weekly earnings ticked up only slightly, suggesting, as the Federal Reserve said Wednesday, that there is still slack in the labor market despite the steady gains in job creation.
The rate of participation in the labor force was 62.9 percent, nearly the lowest in decades; the number of long-term unemployed, a particular worry for policy-makers, ticked up to 3.2 million; and the number of people working part-time because they could not find full-time jobs was flat at 7.5 million.
Those numbers are important as economists and policy makers debate whether the economy is accelerating and inflation is picking up, which would mandate tighter monetary policy from the Federal Reserve.
On Wednesday official data showed the economy grew a fast-paced 4.0 percent in the second quarter. But that was mainly a rebound from the 2.1 percent contraction of the first quarter, and economists expect the economy is already decelerating from the second-quarter pace.
The policy debate has focused on the question of whether the labor market is tightening, which would add to inflation.
"We can debate measures of slack all day. But the fact is, there's basically no inflation or wage pressure," University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers said in a tweet.
Economist Chris Williamson of Markit said he expects, in fact, the job creation numbers to slow.
"With companies reporting growing uncertainties to the business outlook, it's perhaps not surprising that the rate of job creation is showing sign of cooling and could continue to ease in coming months."
US markets, on edge for any sign of inflationary pressures, reacted modestly to the new data. Stocks slipped further after Thursday's 2 percent losses, with the S&P 500 down 0.2 percent in late trade.
The dollar, which had steadily climbed against the euro over the past two weeks, slipped to $1.3424 per euro.