NEW YORK — The job market hasn’t been this good in a very long time.
The unemployment rate dropped below 4% in April for the first time since 2000. The Labor Department reported Friday that it fell to 3.9% — inching closer to territory not seen in half a century.
Employers added 164,000 jobs, slightly below what economists were expecting but better than a comparatively sluggish March.
The report indicates another month of solid job growth for an economy that has been expanding for almost nine years — the second-longest streak on record.
Business would be adding even more jobs if they could find the workers they want. There are more than 6 million unfilled job openings in the United States, near a record. The number of people quitting jobs is also historically high, as people leave for better jobs.
“The employment situation continues to surprise everyone,” said Robert Frick, chief economist with Navy Federal Credit Union. “Getting down to 3.9 is quite a marker.”
Wages grew 2.6% from a year earlier. That was also slightly below expectations.
Hiring gains in April were broad. Professional and business services added 54,000 jobs, health care added 24,000, and manufacturing posted an increase of 24,000 jobs.
The mining sector added 8,000 jobs, extending its gains. Employment in mining has risen by 86,000 since October 2016.
The wage growth number seemed unlikely to alarm Wall Street, which has been worried in recent months about inflation. Stock futures were little changed after the report came out.
Inflation is closing in on the Federal Reserve’s 2% target, gasoline is heading toward $3 a gallon, and companies are reporting cost pressures. Faster inflation could force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates more quickly than planned.
Frick believes unemployment will keep falling as businesses offer more attractive wages and benefits to fill openings.
“There’s still hundreds of thousands of more people who will enter the workforce,” he said. “I think we can get down to 3.5%.”
Unemployment fell as low as 3.8% in April 2000, in the waning days of the technology boom. The last time it was lower than that was 1969.