WASHINGTON: The US economy pumped out 217,000 jobs in May, less than the previous month but still a solid number, Labor Department data showed Friday.
The unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent, after falling sharply from 6.7 percent in April.
The showing was close to expectations, implying a continued modest rebound by the economy after the 1.0 percent contraction of the first quarter of the year.
But the pace of job creation was not strong enough to pull people back into the workforce after having left it during the Great Recession, with the very low 62.8 percent rate of participation unchanged.
Encouraging, however, were falls in the number of people forced to work part-time because they could not find full-time jobs, and a slight uptick in wages during the month.
May's job gains achieved a fresh benchmark for the recovery from the 2008 economic crisis: the total number of jobs held surpassed for the first time the pre-recession peak of 138.4 million.
"Non-farm payroll employment fell by 8.7 million from January 2008 though February 2010. Since then, employment has risen by 8.8 million," said the Labor Department.
Economists said May's net job creation numbers were encouraging, even if down from April's 282,000 revised number.
"This is a solid report, marking four straight gains over 200,000; that hasn't happened for more than 14 years," said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.
Almost all of the gains were in the private sector, with governments at all levels adding only a net 1,000 workers.
The biggest chunk of new jobs came in the health care and social assistance sector, where almost 55 million positions were added.
The leisure and hospitality sector picked up 39,000 jobs, suggesting Americans are beginning to loosen their pocketbooks and spend on dining, entertainment and holidays.
The trade and transport sectors also added about 39,000 payrolls, another sign of a general pickup in economic activity.
But the construction sector, which economists have hoped would carry the economy forward, remained relatively weak, adding just 6,000 jobs. (AFP)