In June Jobs Numbers, Signs For Optimism

The job market improved in June, as employers added 288,000 workers to their payrolls and the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent. In another welcome development, the ranks of the long-term unemployed declined.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block. There are plenty of Fourth of July references being tossed around about the latest economic numbers. Some analysts call the new report early fireworks, others caution hold the fireworks. But overall, the news is positive. The Labor Department says employers added 288,000 new jobs last month - more than expected. The unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent. And that's the lowest unemployment rate since 2008. The stock market hit an all-time high. Here's NPR's Chris Arnold.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: We've now had five straight months with gains of more than 200,000 jobs. So that's solid job growth. And President Barack Obama celebrated that today, as he visited a group of start-up companies in Washington, D.C..

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We just got the jobs report today, showing that we've now seen the fastest job growth in the United States, in the first half of the year, since 1999.

ARNOLD: And it wasn't just the president who liked this jobs report. Just about every economist weighing in said something along the lines of...

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IAN SHEPHERDSON: Well, overall, it's great. I'm very happy to see the 288 number. I'm very happy to see a pretty broad-based spread, with job growth in most of the key sectors looking pretty solid.

ARNOLD: That's Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. He says something else that's encouraging - for years, small businesses have been the missing link to a real jobs recovery. And Shepherdson's now seeing signs that more small businesses are finally starting to hire.

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SHEPHERDSON: This really has been the missing link. And it's been what I've been waiting for, for the last five years, before I could argue with a straight face that the economy as a whole was going to repair itself properly - because remember, small companies employ about half the workforce. So we're in a position where, finally, they're starting to move. And this, really, potentially makes an enormous difference.

ARNOLD: The report also revised upwards the numbers for the prior two months. David Kotok is chief economist at Cumberland Advisors.

DAVID KOTOK: There's a trend of gradually healing and improving employment in the United States. And it's now a trend sufficiently in place. So we can say this is not just a blip.

ARNOLD: One area that's less encouraging, though, is wages. Real wages have been stagnant or worse for middle-class Americans for years. There was some slight wage growth last month, but not much. And the president acknowledged that.

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OBAMA: We still have not seen as much increase in income and wages as we'd like to see. A lot of folks are still digging themselves out of challenges that arose out of the Great Recession.

ARNOLD: Lisa Lynch is a former chief economist at the Labor Department and currently a professor at Brandeis.

LISA LYNCH: It's hard to find anything that's not good news in this report.

ARNOLD: But, she says, another less bright spot...

LYNCH: You know, it's July. Everybody's thinking about the summertime, Fourth of July festivities, but also - teenage summer jobs. We still have 1 in 5 teens who's looking for a summer job can't find it. So that's really high.

ARNOLD: And there's still a lot of people who are underemployed or working part-time when they'd like to be working full-time. Still, Ian Shepherdson says, after the slowdown during that long, cold winter, this report puts that slowdown behind us.

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SHEPHERDSON: You can't create 200,000 plus jobs per month, month, after month, after month, if the economy is not strong. The odds have never been better, since the crash, that the economy is going to break out to the upside and stay there.

ARNOLD: On that note, enjoy the Fourth of July weekend. Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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