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US employers add a significant 288,000 jobs in June

WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers accelerated their hiring last month, adding a robust 288,000 jobs and helping drive the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, the lowest since September 2008.

It was the fifth straight monthly job gain above 200,000 — the best such stretch since the late 1990s tech boom. Over the past 12 months, the economy has added nearly 2.5 million jobs — 208,000 a month, the fastest year-over-year pace since May 2006.

Friday's report from the Labor Department made clear that the U.S. economy is moving steadily closer to full health after having shrunk at the start of the year.

June's job gain followed additions of 217,000 jobs in May and 304,000 in April, figures that were both revised upward. Monthly job gains so far this year have averaged 230,833, up from 194,250 in 2013.

The unemployment rate dipped last month to its lowest level since the financial crisis struck at full force in the fall of 2008 with the bankruptcy of the Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers.

The gains were widespread. Factories added 16,000 workers. Retailers brought on 40,200. Financial and insurance firms increased their employee ranks by 17,000.

Job growth has averaged 272,000 over the past three months. In May, the economy surpassed its jobs total in December 2007, when the Great Recession officially began.

The number of long-term unemployed has dropped by 1.2 million over the past year to just under 3.1 million. That is half what it was three years ago.

Still, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute estimate that 7 million more jobs would have been needed to keep up with population growth.

The challenge is whether the job gains will pull more Americans back into employment and lift wages that have barely budged. Many people who lost jobs during the recession and were never rehired have stopped looking for work. Just 62.8 percent of adult Americans are working or are looking for a job, compared with 66 percent before the recession.

Average wages, meanwhile, have grown just 2 percent a year during the recovery, below the long-run average annual growth of about 3.5 percent.

US Trade Deficit Drops to US$44.4 Bil. in May

The U.S. trade deficit fell in May as U.S. exports hit an all-time high, helped by a jump in exports of petroleum products. Imports dipped slightly.

The trade deficit narrowed 5.6 percent in May to US$44.4 billion after hitting a two-year high of US$47 billion in April, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Exports of goods and services rose 1 percent to a record US$195.5 billion in May while imports fell a slight 0.3 percent to US$239.8 billion.

A lower trade deficit boosts overall economic growth when it shows U.S. companies are earning more in their overseas sales. Economists are looking for a smaller trade deficit in the April-June quarter to help propel growth in output after the economy shrank in the first quarter at a 2.9 percent rate.

Many analysts expect growth will rebound to a healthy rate between 3 percent and 3.5 percent, helped in part by stronger exports.

In 2013, the trade deficit declined 11.3 percent to US$476.4 billion. That reflected in part a boom in U.S. energy production that cut into America's dependence on foreign oil while boosting U.S. petroleum exports to a record high.

The larger trade gap in the first three months of this year, compared to the fourth quarter, shaved 1.5 percentage points from growth. That was a big factor in helping to push the economy into reverse. In addition to a higher trade deficit, the economy was held back by severe winter which dampened consumer spending.

In May, the U.S. trade deficit with China rose 5.4 percent to US$28.8 billion. Through the first five months of this year, America's deficit with China is running 3.2 percent ahead of last year's record pace.

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