Updated from 8:46 a.m. EDT

The lingering prospect of a double-dip recession was lent credence in some circles by Friday's jobs numbers, but for the most part economists said the data depicted a recovery that was still sputtering forward.

Fewer jobs were created in July than was expected, but the shortfall wasn't substantial and the overall rate of unemployment held steady at 5.9%, according to the Labor Department.

Six thousand nonfarm jobs were added in July compared with expectations of about 60,000. But the pace of job growth was actually higher than previously reported for May and June. A combined 88,000 jobs were created in those months, compared with previous estimates of 60,000.

"The economy has clearly stalled and we are creating very few jobs," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Wells Fargo. "This is probably partly a result of the stock market drop, which increased caution among employers.

"The best thing we can say is the labor market has stabilized."

Joel Naroff, an economist at Naroff Economic Advisors, downplayed the weakness. "The bulk of the economy was still in the same shape in July as it was in June, which isn't great but isn't terrible."

Factories shed 7,000 jobs in July, the 24th straight month they've given up jobs, but the losses were less than 13,000 cuts in June. Manufacturing overtime fell to 4.1 hours in July from 4.3 hours in June.

"It was worrisome that businesses were cutting overtime, average workweek hours and utilizing even fewer temporary help in July," said Sohn. "I can see caution all over the map."

Average weekly hours worked fell to 34 in July, the lowest since October, from 34.3 in June. Meantime, temporary-help companies lost 35,000 positions after adding 15,000 a month before.

Service-producing companies, which include retailers, transportation companies and government agencies, added 46,000 jobs after adding 68,000 a month before. Health services jobs rose by 29,000. Retail employment increased by 12,000 after falling by 16,000. Construction employment fell by 30,000 after rising by 14,000.

Workers' average hourly earnings rose 0.3%, or 4 cents, in July, after a 0.3% increase in June. Average weekly earnings rose to $502.86 from $505.93. The percentage of the U.S. population holding jobs fell to 62.6% in July from 62.7% in June.

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