U.S. employers cut 247,000 jobs in July, far less than expected and the least in any month since last August, according to a government report on Friday that provided the clearest evidence yet that the economy was turning around.


Stephen Battaglia (L) of West Palm Beach, Florida searches for jobs on a computer at Workforce Alliance in West Palm Beach, Florida July 2, 2009. (REUTERS / Joe Skipper)

With fewer workers being laid off, the unemployment rate eased to 9.4 percent in July from 9.5 percent the prior month, the Labor Department said, the first time the jobless rate had fallen since April 2008.

The government revised job losses for May and June to show 43,000 fewer jobs lost than previously reported.

Analysts had expected non-farm payrolls to drop 320,000 in July and the unemployment rate to rise to 9.6 percent. The forecast was made earlier this week before other jobs data prompted some economists to lower their estimates for job losses.

Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the economy has shed 6.7 million jobs, the department said.

Job losses in July were spread across all sectors, but the pace of firings slowed markedly from previous months.

Manufacturing employment fell by 52,000 -- the first time since September losses were less than 100,000 -- after shrinking by 131,000 in June. This was probably due to the reopening of General Motors and Chrysler assembly plants after bankruptcy closures.

Payrolls in construction industries slipped 76,000 after falling 86,000, likely reflecting spending on infrastructure projects from the government's $787 billion stimulus package and a modest pickup in ground breaking for new homes.

In the service-providing sector, 119,000 workers were laid off, and the goods-producing industries purged 128,000 positions.

Education and health services continued to add jobs, with payrolls increasing 17,000 in July after rising 37,000 in June. Government employment increased 7,000 after slipping 48,000 in June.