WASHINGTON - The U.S. unemployment rate dropped in June to the lowest level in nearly six years, while job creation surged.
Thursday's report from the Labor Department shows the unemployment rate falling two-tenths of a percentage point to hit 6.1 percent.
The study also shows a net gain of 288,000 jobs. The job growth and the unemployment rate are both better than economists had predicted.
President Barack Obama visited a start-up technology firm in Washington and noted that it was the first time since 1999 the economy had gained 200,000 jobs a month for five straight months. But he said even more jobs could be created were it not for Washington's political gridlock.
"We've done better than the vast majority of other countries over the last five years, but that drag has still meant a lot of hardship for a lot of folks," he said. "And so it’s really important for us to understand that we could be making even stronger progress, we could be growing even more jobs, we could be creating even more business opportunities for smart, talented folks like these if those of us here in Washington were focused on them, focused on you, the American people, rather than focused on politics."
Government experts say job growth was widespread last month, and strongest in professional services, retail, food services and health care.
The data may be evidence that the world's largest economy is recovering from the effects of unusually foul winter weather that hurt the economy in the first few months this year.
The upbeat data encouraged investors, who pushed the country's best known stock price barometer, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, above 17,000 for the first time.
During the past year, the number of people officially counted as unemployed is down by 2.3 million, but that still leaves 9.5 million people out of work.
Other job data was mixed. The number of Americans working part time rose because they cannot find full-time work, while the number of people out of work longer than 27 weeks declined.
A separate report from the Commerce Department shows that growing exports improved the U.S. trade deficit.