The US economy kept its jobs machine humming in July, although in a somewhat lower gear, as unemployment held steady at a seven-year low, the government reported Friday.
Analysts said the mixed Labor Department data looked likely to keep the Federal Reserve on track for its first interest rate increase in more than nine years -- a move expected sometime this year.
The economy added 215,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said, missing the consensus estimate of 229,000.
But job growth in the prior two months was stronger than first thought, by a combined 14,000 payrolls, with the department upwardly revising June to 231,00 jobs and May to 260,000.
That brought the average monthly jobs gains to a solid average of 235,000 over the past three months, heightening speculation that the Fed could raise its near-zero federal funds rate next month.
"The understanding that the report was not decidedly weak is apt to keep the Federal Reserve on a desired track to raise the fed funds rate soon -- and most likely in September in our estimation," said Patrick O'Hare at Briefing.com.
Job growth came largely in retail trade, health care, professional and technical services, and financial activities. The robust US auto market spurred encouraged dealerships to add 13,000 jobs, about a third of the total retail sector gains.
However, falling oil and other commodity prices continued to take a toll on employment in mining, which lost 5,000 jobs in July. Since the recent peak last December the sector has shed 78,000 jobs.
The number of long-term unemployed -- those out of a job for at least 27 weeks -- barely budged at 2.2 million, and represented nearly 27 percent of the jobless.
The participation rate was unchanged at 62.6 percent, hovering at the lowest level in decades as people stayed out of the workforce.
And those employed only part-time who wanted full-time jobs was little changed at 6.3 million.
The hourly wage, closely watched by the Fed for signs of tightening slack in the jobs market, edged up 0.2 percent to $24.99. Year-on-year, wages were up 2.1 percent.
The Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, in its late-July policy statement, said it would consider it appropriate to raise the fed funds rate when it "has seen some further improvement in the labor market" and is "reasonably confident" that inflation will move back toward its 2.0 percent target.
It has held the benchmark rate near zero since late 2008 in a bid to support the economy's recovery from the severe 2008-2009 recession.
"There can be no doubt in our view that today's employment report does indeed represent 'some further' improvement in the labor market -- if not more," said Harm Bandholz of UniCredit.
"It, therefore, further strengthens our view for the first rate hike in September."