WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy posted strong job growth in June, with a net gain of 222,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate rose slightly to hit 4.4 percent.
Friday's report from the Labor Department shows wages grew 2.5 percent in June from the same period a year earlier. That is just slightly above the rate of inflation, and several analysts called the gain "disappointing."
Economists say when hiring steps up, employers usually have to raise wages to attract and retain the best workers. Many companies complain they can not get all the technically-skilled workers they need. But so far, overall wages have grown little.
The economy has been recovering from the recession for a number of years, but economic growth has been slower this time than in previous economic recoveries. U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will discuss wage growth, productivity, inflation and other issues next Wednesday and Thursday when she speaks to key committees of Congress. In a preview of her testimony published Friday, she said the U.S. economy will grow steadily and the Fed will continue gradually raising interest rates.
The central bank slashed interest rates to record lows during the recession to boost growth. But the recovering economy no longer needs so much help, and failing to bring interest rates back to normal levels risks boosting inflation high enough to hurt the economy.
Chief economist for the global information company, IHS, Nariman Behravesh says wage growth will probably pick up over the next year as the economy gains between 150 and 180 thousand jobs a month.
Watch: US Economy Adds 222,000 Jobs in June; Wages Remain Flat
PNC Bank Chief Economist Gus Faucher says employers will raise wages as they find it "more and more difficult to attract qualified workers."
S&P Global Ratings Economist Satyam Panday says there are six million job openings in the United States, and more training programs could help prepare people to fill these positions.
Friday's report from the Labor Department also says the unemployment rate edged up slightly to 4.4 percent. The one-tenth of a percent increase is due to more people, perhaps encouraged by mostly positive economic news, resuming their search for work.
About 7 million Americans are counted as unemployed. Another 1.6 million are not working but are not counted as officially unemployed because they have not sought jobs in the past four weeks.
More than 5 million additional people want full-time jobs but can find only part-time employment. June's job gains were concentrated in health care, business services and restaurants.