The labor market continued to gain momentum and defy a mixed economy in June as employers added 288,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.1% vs. 6.3% in May.
Economists had estimated that 215,000 jobs were added last month.
The numbers came out early Thursday, helping the Dow hit 17,000 for the first time in history just minutes after the market opened.
The economy has now gained 200,000 jobs a month for the past five months -- the first such stretch since September 1999-January 2000.
Several economists expected continued strong employment advances after private payroll processor ADP released its own survey Wednesday that showed businesses added 281,000 jobs in June – the most since November 2012.
Also, initial jobless claims have fallen to prerecession levels and surveys of service-sector employment are indicating a pickup in hiring. Outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas said Thursday that announced job cuts fell to 31,434 in June from 52,961 in May and are down 5% so far this year,
Goldman Sachs had cautioned that the labor market might have taken a breather in June after four months of 200,000-plus gains, noting that a bounce-back in hiring after the harsh winter weather may be losing steam.
The surprisingly resilient job market has contrasted with an economy that contracted 2.9% in the first quarter — its worst performance in five years — and weak consumer spending recently.