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217,000 jobs created; rate stuck at 6.3%

– U.S. employers added 217,000 jobs in May, a substantial gain for a fourth straight month, fueling hopes that the economy will accelerate after a grim start to the year.

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, remained 6.3 percent in May. That’s the lowest rate in more than five years.

Friday’s report from the Labor Department signaled that the U.S. economy is steadily strengthening and outpacing struggling countries in Europe and Asia. U.S. consumers are showing more confidence. Auto sales have surged. Manufacturers are expanding steadily. Service companies are growing more quickly.

“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.”

The job market has now reached a significant milestone: Nearly five years after the recession ended, the economy has finally regained all the jobs lost in the downturn.

More job growth is needed, though, because the population has grown nearly 7 percent since then. Economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimate that 7 million more jobs would have been added to match population growth.

In addition, pay growth remains subpar. Average wages have grown roughly 2 percent a year since the recession ended, well below the long-run average annual growth rate of about 3.5 percent.

Unemployment has fallen from a 10 percent peak in 2009 partly because fewer people are working or looking for work. The percentage of adults who either have a job or are looking for one remained at a 35-year low in May.

Still, the United States is faring far better than most other major industrial nations. Overall unemployment for the 18 countries that use the euro was 11.7 percent in April, though some European nations, such as Germany and Denmark, have much lower rates.

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