The U.S. labor market remained a bright spot in the economy last month despite mounting talks of a recession, data from the Labor Department showed Friday.
Here are the key numbers from Friday's report:
Non-farm payrolls: +372,000 vs. +268,000 expected and a revised +384,000 in May
Unemployment rate: 3.6% vs. 3.6% expected and 3.6% in May
Average hourly earnings, month-over-month: +0.3% vs. +0.3% expected and a revised +0.4% in May
Average hourly earnings, year-over-year: +5.1% vs. +5.0% expected and a revised +5.3% in May
The latest data reflects a slightly slower pace of hiring from May, which saw payrolls rise by a revised 384,000. The Labor Department previously reported an increase of 390,000 jobs during the month.
Prior to June and May's releases, the U.S. economy had added at least 400,000 jobs each month over the last year, bringing employment within 1% of pre-pandemic levels. Monthly job gains remain robust on a historical basis, however, as monthly payroll gains averaged about 164,000 per month in 2019.
At the industry level, services-based employers again led gains in June as companies rushed to hire back workers laid off during the pandemic, with a return to in-person activities after the pandemic driving consumer demand. Employment in the leisure and hospitality industry increased by 67,000 jobs, though at a slower rate than last month’s increase of 84,000.
Despite gains in the sector, employment in leisure and hospitality remains at 1.3 million, or 7.8% below pre-COVID levels in February 2020.
Job gains in the professional and business services sector were also a standout in June’s report with 67,000 jobs added last month. The increases bring employment in this area of the labor market to 880,000 higher than in February 2020, with most jobs added across management of companies and enterprises, computer systems design and related services, office administrative services, and scientific research and development services.
Employment in health care also buoyed the broader gain in jobs last month at an increase of 57,000 jobs in June. The gains bring the sector 1.1%, or 176,000 jobs short, of its February 2020 level.
The Labor Department's June report comes as investors worry about rising costs associated with inflation and higher interest rates, raising the specter of a potential recession hitting the labor market. Some companies have also announced layoffs and hiring freezes, but job cuts have so-far been industry-specific.
"The strong 372,000 gain in non-farm payrolls in June appears to make a mockery of claims the economy is heading into, let alone already in, a recession," Capital Economics Senior U.S. Economist Andrew Hunter said in an emailed note. "The June gain leaves the three-month average increase at a rock-solid 375,000, well above the outright stagnation typically seen in the run-up to economic downturns."
Unemployment stayed at 3.6%, in line with economist estimates and slightly above February 2020's level of 3.5% before the pandemic tipped the economy into recession.
The labor force participation ticked slightly lower to 62.2% from 62.3% in the prior month.
"The high number of people not returning to the work force is one of the nagging problems with the labor market right now," LPL Financial Chief Economist Jeffrey Roach said in a note. "Relative to pre-pandemic levels, the economy has 4.8 million more people out of the labor force. Some likely took early retirements but that does not explain the rest of the story."
An unusually tight labor market has been the focal point of Fed policymakers, with the imbalance between job openings and available workers placing upward pressure on wages and adding to inflationary pressures. Minutes from the U.S. central bank’s June meeting out Wednesday showed officials acknowledged that job vacancies remain at historical highs nominal wage growth remained elevated.
“While labor markets were anticipated to remain tight in the near term, participants expected labor demand and supply to come into better balance over time, helping to ease upward pressure on wages and prices,” the Fed minutes indicated. “As in the case of product markets, they anticipated that an appropriate firming of monetary policy would play a central role in helping address imbalances in the labor market.”
Average hourly earnings increased 0.3% for the month reflecting a slightly lower tempo from May’s upwardly revised monthly wage gains of 0.4%. On an annual basis, earnings were up 5.1%, also below the updated 5.3% year-over-year increase in May.
"While many participants were looking for a broader slowdown in hiring last month, the reality is the demand for labor remains strong and absent a meaningful decline in hiring, it is hard to envision the economy is on the brink of recession," Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist at Allianz, said. "Overall, today’s report simply means the Fed still has more work to do with regards to policy rates to cool demand in the economy and a 75 basis point rate hike is almost a certainty at this point."
Alexandra Semenova is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alexandraandnyc