Gains push U.S. payrolls past pre-recession peak

Job growth continues in the United States, pushing total employment past  pre-recession levels for the first time in more than six years.

According to the Department of Labor, nonfarm payrolls grew 217,000 in May. The unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent, matching the lowest level since September 2008.

Initial estimates for payroll gains in April and March were revised down a total of 6,000. Still, U.S. payrolls have increased an average of 197,000 a month over the past year.

With the May gain, total U.S. payrolls reached 138.5 million, exceeding the previous peak level of employment in January 2008.

Still, the number of people counted among the long-term unemployed who’ve been out of work 27 weeks or more totals 3.4 million. Another 7.3 million people are counted among those working part-time because their hours have been cut back or they’re unable to find a full-time position. At 62.8 percent, the civilian labor participation rate remains near the lowest levels since the 1970s.

For May, payroll gains were spread among several industry sectors with a net increase of 55,000 jobs in both the professional and business services and health care and social assistance sectors. Employment rose 32,000 in food services and eating places.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls held steady at 34.5 hours. The average manufacturing workweek increased two-tenths of an hour to 41.1 hours.

Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose 5 cents to $24.38. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have increased 2.1 percent.