U.S. gains 209,000 jobs, unemployment rate falls to 4.3 percent

Jobs and unemployment tile

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. employers added 209,000 jobs in July, a second straight month of robust gains that underscore the economy's vitality as it enters a ninth year of expansion.

The unemployment rate slipped to 4.3 percent from 4.4 percent, matching a 16-year low first reached in May, the Labor Department said Friday.

But growth in Americans' paychecks - a persistent weak spot since the recovery began in June 2009 - remains stubbornly slow. Average hourly pay rose by 2.5 percent from a year earlier, the same tepid annual pace as in June. That's below the 3.5 percent to 4 percent that is typical when the unemployment rate is this low.

Still, the hiring data points to a healthy economy despite some mixed signals in recent weeks. Employers appear to be optimistic about their businesses and future consumer demand.