Jane Hunt started a new job July 18, which makes her somewhat of a national rarity - one of 117,000 new jobs added to the nation's payrolls in July, according to the U.S. Labor Department's Friday report.

Hunt, of Cinnaminson, had a small part to play in the decline of the unemployment rate, which edged down from 9.2 percent in June to 9.1 percent in July.

The private sector added 154,000 new jobs, but they were offset by deep cuts in government employment, particularly at the state and local levels, where payrolls decreased by 39,000.

That's what makes Hunt's new job so unusual. She works as a vocational counselor for the Camden County Health Services Center. Her job? Helping others find jobs. "I'm so excited," Hunt wrote in an e-mail sent out before she started working. She had been looking for a job since March 2010.

The month's jobless report was released a day after the Dow took its worst plunge since the economic crisis of 2008. Like a bungee jumper, the Dow bounced around Friday, moving from a high of 11,555 to a low of 11,140, before closing at 11,445, up from Thursday's 11,383 close.

Friday's report showed modest job growth in most sectors, except financial activities and government hiring. The 117,000 net jobs created pleasantly surprised forecasters. They had expected a dismal repeat of the economy's May and June performance.

Instead, the department revised May and June numbers upward, increasing the jobs created in May from 25,000 to 53,000 and in June from 18,000 to 46,000.

These numbers "are only encouraging because they were not horrible, a terrible place to be," said Carl Van Horn, a professor at Rutgers University who studies long-term unemployment.

"The economy is stuck in a rut, but at least it is not going over a cliff," he said.

Even so, the number of unemployed people continues to hover around 14 million - it was 14.1 million in June and 13.9 million in July. The average length of unemployment is expanding - up to 40.4 weeks in July.

It takes 100,000 new jobs a month to keep pace with the growth in working-age population, so at 117,000, the economy barely moved the needle in offsetting jobs lost during the recession.

In Washington on Friday, President Obama proposed tax credits for companies that hire returning veterans, and extra tax credits for those that hire disabled veterans.

"My singular focus," he said in a speech at Washington's Navy Yard, "is the American people. Getting the unemployed back on the job, lifting their wages."

Meanwhile, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) criticized Democratic policies.

"While the American people are asking 'Where are the jobs?' the Democrats running Washington are determined to punish small businesses with higher taxes and more red tape," he said.

On Friday, General Electric Co. announced plans to create 8,000 jobs, including 350 in Pennsylvania. Last Friday, Merck & Co. said it would cut 13,000 jobs worldwide by the end of 2015.

"Businesses put hiring on the back burner," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester. "I think businesses, overall, are very skittish."

So, he said, are consumers. "We've seen consumer spending come to a grinding halt," sideswiped, he said, by rising energy costs that have just recently begun to ease.

Joel Capparella, a vice president of Yoh, the temporary-staffing division of Yoh Services L.L.C., in Philadelphia, charts the economy by the hourly wage that highly skilled temporary tech workers can command.

A year ago, a tech temp could bring in an average of $31.43 an hour. Now, the same tech will be getting $30.99 an hour - it's been in that small range for about a year. That stagnation, he said, mirrors the economy.

"We have companies who have cash on hand, but they are hesitant to use that cash," Capparella said.

Rich Milgram, chief executive of Beyond.com, a company that is the behind-the-scenes operator of many specialty job boards, monitors the economy based on the number of job postings. "We're seeing a modest uptick in jobs for July in the traditional sectors, but it is not to the level of making a dent in the unemployment rate," said Milgram, whose King of Prussia company hired six new employees in July.

Some of it, he said, may simply be summer doldrums. "Everybody just forgets about the woes of the world and goes down to the Shore," he said. "That goes for the people who are doing the hiring and the people who are looking."

Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com,

or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.