Employers added 217,000 jobs in May as the labor market continued to post strong gains after a harsh winter dampened economic growth early this year.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.3%, the Labor Department said Friday.
Economists surveyed by Action Economics estimated that 220,000 jobs were added last month.
The labor market reached a milestone with May's report, now exceeding pre-recession employment for the first time in the nearly five-year-old recovery. Employment fell by 8.7 million from January 2008 through February 2010, but since then nonfarm jobs have risen by 8.8 million.
May's tally also mark the fourth straight month that job gains have topped 200,000 -- the first such stretch since October 1999-January 2000.
Businesses add 216,000 jobs, while federal, state and local governments added 1,000.
April's job gains of 288,000 were revised down slightly to 282,000.
Several analysts were optimistic ahead of Friday's employment report, noting that initial jobless claims – a barometer of layoffs – have continued to fall to pre-recession levels recently. And a measure of service-sector employment rose last month.
Others expected the job market to take a breather after April's booming gains. Private payroll processor ADP reported this week that businesses added 179,000 jobs in May, below the 200,000-plus expected.
The economy generally has rebounded recently after shrinking in the first quarter for the first time in three years amid cold and snowy weather. Manufacturing activity, business investment and home sales have picked up, but consumer spending has lagged.