WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy picked up unexpected momentum in July and added 163,000 jobs, the biggest increase in five months, according to federal data released Friday.
But unemployment inched up to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent in June. The rate has remained above 8 percent since February 2009 and has been a point of contention in the presidential race.
July's relatively robust showing came after three straight months of significantly slower job growth. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had predicted only 100,000 new jobs.
Economist Kathy Bostjancic of The Conference Board, a Manhattan-based business research group, said last month's increase offered "some hopeful news."
"While the monthly gain is still relatively small by historical standards, it might help spark somewhat higher consumer optimism and spending," she said.
The job growth both here and nationally is being driven in large part by increases in the professional and business services category. That sector added 49,000 jobs nationally in July, with a big chunk coming from temp companies. On Long Island, the sector had 5,400 more jobs in June than the year before.
Still, the report shows that the national job market is a long way from recovering from damage inflicted during the recession that ended three years ago.
For example, jobless rates for African-Americans and Hispanics and the nation's youngest workers remain in double digits. African-Americans have the highest rate of any racial group, 14.1 percent; Hispanics are at 10.3 percent. And nearly a quarter of workers ages 16 to 19 were unemployed in July, 23.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Long Island's July employment numbers are due out later this month. Growth has been weakening for the past three months. In June, the Island had only 6,300 more jobs than the year before, according to state Labor Department data. Unlike federal data, local numbers are compared on a year-to-year basis because they aren't adjusted to account for seasonal monthly swings.
And Long Island's unemployment rate has been climbing. It was 7.7 percent in June, up from 7 percent a year earlier.
Some local employers are expanding their operations and staff. The investment firm Edward Jones, which has 40 offices on Long Island, may open 10 more over the next year, said Scott Posner, regional leader for Long Island and New York City. The company has 78 employees on the Island, including four hired in the past month, Posner said.
"As a partnership, we take a much longer view to the business environment," he said. "We know that now is the best time to grow."
Lindenhurst resident Steven Katz, 53, is a recent hire in Edward Jones' Seaford office, where he works as a financial adviser. He previously worked 81/2 years for a local insurance company but wanted to get back into the brokerage business. An accountant by training, he said his background in the financial industry gave him an edge. "That helped me find a new position with a great firm," he said.