The U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
The number was slightly disappointing after the economy added 298,000 jobs in June. Economists surveyed by CNNMoney had expected a gain of 230,000 jobs for July.
Economists characterize the broader trend as “solid, but not stellar.” Over the past six months, the economy added 1.5 million jobs. That’s the strongest six months for hiring since 2006.
“We’re not losing ground. We’re still in a recovery,” said Heidi Shierholz, economist for the Economic Policy Institute. “But we’re not seeing a big acceleration in job growth, either.”
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.2% in July, from 6.1% in June as more workers joined the labor force.
This recovery has been a long, slow haul, but it now seems to be hitting its stride.
About 8.7 million American jobs were wiped out in just two years following the 2008 financial crisis. The economy finally gained them all back earlier this year.
Blue collar industries like manufacturing and construction were the hardest hit sectors in the recession, and those jobs have started to trickle back. Manufacturers have added 99,000 jobs over the past six months, while construction firms have added 114,000 jobs since January.
Meanwhile, government jobs are starting to come back slowly too.
Jobs in these sectors tend to offer middle-class wages. The recovery is no longer dominated by hiring for low-wage retail and restaurant jobs.
That said, stronger hiring has yet to translate into bigger paychecks for most workers. The average American wage edged up only 1 cent in July to $24.45 an hour. Over the past 12 months, wages rose 2%, but that’s not enough to surpass inflation.
“As the labor market strengthens, we should see stronger wage growth, but this report doesn’t provide much evidence that that’s happening yet,” Sherholz said.
Economists hope the strong hiring will continue at a pace fast enough to make up for population growth during those years of deep job losses, and draw some job market dropouts back into the labor force.
As of July, only 62.9% of U.S. adults over age 16 either had a job or were looking for one. That percentage — known as the labor force participation rate — is still near its lowest level since the late 1970s. That partly reflects baby boomers retiring, as well as ongoing weakness in the job market.
And many Americans still think the economy is not fully recovered. According to the results of a CNN/ORC International poll released Friday, 41% of people surveyed rate the economy as “good”, while 58% rate the economy as “poor.”
But even at just 41%, it is the highest percentage of Americans with a positive view of the economy since the recession officially began in December 2007.