NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. economy added more than 200,000 new jobs for a second straight month in July, topping economists’ estimates, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent to match its lowest level since May 2001.
While headline job growth remains robust, wage growth for U.S. workers has been sluggish since the Great Recession, although hourly earnings picked up last month, government data show. July’s monthly gain of 0.3 percent was the strongest since last October and annual gains, after falling earlier this year, appear to have stabilized, holding at 2.5 percent.
Workers in the leisure and hospitality sector saw the largest wage gains on a year-over-year basis through July, U.S. Labor Department data showed. Their pay rose in July by nearly 3.5 percent from a year earlier, but that is down from a post-recession high of 4.2 percent in May.
Meanwhile, the annual increase in pay for employees in the trade, transportation and utilities sector was just shy of 2 percent, the weakest of 10 main sectors tracked by the Labor Department.
In all, six sectors saw wage growth below the 2.5 percent total, and four sectors exceeded it.
Manufacturing was one of the bright spots in Friday’s payrolls data, with the sector adding 16,000 jobs in July, the most since February. Moreover, the month’s gains pushed total U.S. manufacturing employment to more than 12.4 million, its highest level since January 2009.
Still, the sector has not regained all of the jobs lost in the recession. U.S. companies had employed nearly 13.8 million production workers before the slump.
The workforce participation rate among U.S. residents aged 16 or older also ticked higher in July to 62.9 percent, its second straight gain after retreating this spring from the 63 percent level. A key measure of Americans’ confidence in the labor market, it has not risen above the 63 percent mark in more than three years. It was at 66 percent when the recession began in late 2007.
The participation rate is higher among so-called prime-age workers between 25 and 54 years old. That rate rose in July to 81.8 percent, its highest level since December 2010.
The recovery in the participation rate from its post-recession low about two years ago has been led by prime-age women more so than men.
Since the overall prime-age rate began climbing from a three-decade low in September 2015, the participation rate among women in that age group has risen from 73.4 percent to 75.3 percent. Meanwhile the comparable rate for men has hardly changed, edging up from 88.1 percent to 88.5 percent.
That has shrunk the participation-rate gender gap in this key age demographic to just 13.2 percentage points, its narrowest ever.
(For a graphic on 'U.S. Wage Growth since 2007' click reut.rs/2feOh24)
(For a graphic on 'U.S. Wage Growth' click reut.rs/2hvfWMA)
(For a graphic on 'U.S. Manufacturing Employment' click reut.rs/2feX8kc)
(For a graphic on 'U.S. Workforce Participation Rate' click reut.rs/2husUu5)
Reporting by Dan Burns; Editing by Paul Simao