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US economy adds 157,000 jobs in July, slightly below expectations

A job seeker shakes hands with a representative during a National Career Fairs event in Tampa, Florida, on May 23, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Luke Sharrett.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. hiring spree continued in July as the economy added 157,000 jobs and unemployment fell slightly to 3.9 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The U.S. economy has added jobs for a 94 consecutive months, a record streak that shows no signs of waning despite President Donald Trump's escalating trade war. Many business leaders have warned the standoffs with China, the European Union and other major trading partners could cause layoffs if tariffs stay in place for an extended period of time.

Hiring remained solid in nearly every industry in July. Blue-collar jobs, especially in manufacturing, have grown solidly this year. Americans are optimistic about the economy, largely because of the many "we're hiring" signs seen across the nation.

The only red flag in the U.S. labor market remained wages. Despite many company executives complaining they cannot find workers to fill their open positions, wage growth remains sluggish. Typically businesses raise wages when it's difficult to find the talent they want, but annual wage growth remained at a disappointing 2.7 percent, the Labor Department said. Wage growth has been stuck around that level for two years.

Unemployment has fallen this year to its lowest level since 2000, and many economists predict unemployment will fall even further this year. If the jobless rate drops to 3.7 percent or below, it would be the lowest unemployment rate since 1969. African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates are hovering around the lowest rates since the Labor Department began recording those statistics in the early 1970s.

The last time the U.S. economy had such low unemployment in the late 1990s, wage growth was substantially higher. The current wage gains are barely enough to cover rising costs of food and housing for many Americans.

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This article was written by Heather Long, a reporter for The Washington Post.