Employers added 169.000 jobs in August, as the labor market continued to show solid growth despite substantial federal spending cuts and a payroll tax increase.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.3% from 7.4%, the Labor Department said Friday. That's the lowest since December 2008.
Economists' consensus forecast was that 180,000 jobs were added last month. The report has been highly anticipated by investors because decent growth could persuade the Federal Reserve to dial back its bond-buying stimulus at its Sept.17-18 meeting, as many economists expect.
Friday's report showed a mid-year slowdown in job growth has been more pronounced than initially estimated. The Labor Department revised its estimate for job gains in June to 172,000 from 188,000 and in July, from 162,000 to 104,000.
In August, businesses added 152,000 jobs, while federal, state and local governments added 17,000.
Reports Thursday fueled hopes for continued steady payroll advances. Initial jobless claims fell by 9,000 last week. Payroll processor ADP estimated that the private sector added 176,000 jobs last month. And a measure of service sector employment in August rose sharply.
The economy and job market are expected to gain steam late this year as the impact of the federal spending cuts fades. But another likely showdown in Washington this fall over raising the government's borrowing authority could restrain growth.