Breaking: Economy added 162,000 jobs in July, fewer than expected

Employers added fewer workers than anticipated in July even as the U.S. jobless rate dropped to 7.4 percent, indicating uneven progress in the labor market.

The 162,000 increase in payrolls last month was the smallest in four months and followed a revised 188,000 rise in June that was less than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 93 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 185,000 gain. Workers spent fewer hours on the job and hourly earnings fell for the first time since October.

The slower pace of hiring suggests some employers are confident they’re able to meet demand with current staffing levels as the economy begins to emerge from a first-half slowdown. At the same time, improving consumer confidence and auto sales have encouraged other companies such as Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Ford Motor Co. (F) to take on more workers.

“It is still a difficult job market,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report.