US adds solid 224,000 jobs; Fed rate cut may be less certain

This photo taken Monday, July 1, 2019 shows a worker atop a new building under construction in Hillsborough, N.C. On Friday, July 5, the U.S. government issues the June jobs report. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
In this Tuesday, June 4, 2019 photo, Emily Esparza, lower right, fills out a questionnaire as other job applicants line up at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood during a job fair in Hollywood, Fla. On Friday, July 5, the U.S. government issues the June jobs report. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
In this Tuesday, June 4, 2019 photo, job applicants line up at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood during a job fair in Hollywood, Fla. On Friday, July 5, the U.S. government issues the June jobs report. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers sharply stepped up their hiring in June, adding a robust 224,000 jobs, an indication of the economy's durability after more than a decade of expansion.

The strength of the jobs report the government issued Friday could complicate a decision for the Federal Reserve late this month on whether to cut interest rates to help support the economy. Most investors have anticipated a rate cut in July and perhaps one or two additional Fed cuts later in the year. That scenario may be less likely now.

Stocks sold off Friday morning, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down roughly 150 points, reflecting a view that the Fed might engage in fewer rate hikes. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note climbed to 2.06% from just under 2%.

June's solid job growth followed a tepid gain of 72,000 jobs in May, a result that had fueled concerns about the economy. But with June's pace of hiring, employers have now added, on average, a solid 171,000 jobs for the past three months. Last month's burst of hiring suggests that many employers have shrugged off concerns about weaker global growth, President Donald Trump's trade wars and the waning benefits from U.S. tax cuts.

"Although there are drags on the economy in 2019, the expansion should continue through this year," said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. "The doom and gloom was overblown."

The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% in June from 3.6% for the previous two months, reflecting an influx of people seeking jobs who were initially counted as unemployed. Average hourly wages rose 3.1% from a year ago.

The job gains in June were broad. Construction companies added 21,000 workers after having increased their payrolls by only 5,000 in May. Manufacturers hired 17,000, up from just 3,000 in May. Health care and social assistance added 50,500 jobs. Hiring by transportation and warehousing companies increased 23,900.

The government sector was a major source of hiring, adding 33,000 jobs in June. Nearly all those gains were at the local level.

For Todd Leff, CEO of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, the resilience of the U.S. job market has provided both an opportunity and a challenge. With more Americans earning steady paychecks, demand for massages and facials has increased, and the company plans to add 60 locations this year and roughly 1,800 jobs. But the low unemployment rate has also made it hard to find and retain workers.

"We could hire 1,000 more employees today — if they were available," said Leff, whose company has about 430 locations and is based in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

Investors have been turning their attention to the Fed, which has expressed concern about threats to the economy, especially the uncertainties from Trump's trade wars, and about inflation remaining persistently below its 2% target level. A Fed rate cut, whenever it happens, would be its first in more than a decade.

The sluggish pace of hiring in May had signaled that employers might have grown more cautious because of global economic weakness and, perhaps, some difficulty in finding enough qualified workers at the wages that companies are willing to pay.

The pace of the overall economy is widely thought to be slowing from annual growth that neared a healthy 3% last year. Consumer spending has solidified. Home sales are rebounding. But America's manufacturing sector is weakening along with construction spending. Growth in the services sector, which includes such varied industries as restaurants, finance and recreation, slowed in June.

Overall, though, employers have been adding jobs faster than new workers are flowing into the economy. That suggests that the unemployment rate will remain near its five-decade low and that the economy will keep growing, even if only modestly.

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