(CNN) — The US economy has now regained all jobs lost during the pandemic, after a blowout July jobs report that showed a gain of 528,000 jobs, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The massive monthly gain was more than double the 250,000 that economists were expecting, according to Refinitiv.

The unemployment rate ticked down to 3.5% after holding at 3.6% for the past four months. The July jobless rate matched the half-century low last seen in February 2020.

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Friday’s employment snapshot marks the 19th consecutive month of job growth and is the highest monthly gain since the economy added 714,000 jobs in February. July’s job totals outpace the average monthly gain of 388,000 jobs of the past four months, BLS data shows.

The employment growth was widespread across sectors, with leisure and hospitality seeing some of the biggest gains. However, employment in that key service sector is still more than 1 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, according to the BLS.

The labor force participation rate ticked down to 62.1% from June’s 62.2%. Average hourly earnings rose by 0.5% from the prior month and are up 5.2% over the past year.

Economists had expected the labor market to show some cooling as it not only got closer to recovering the more than 20 million jobs lost during the pandemic but also reflected a broader slowdown in economic activity.

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Prior to Friday’s report, which also included upward revisions totaling 28,000 for the past two months, the nation was about 524,000 jobs below employment levels in February 2020.

In one giant fell swoop, that gap was erased.

“Despite the two straight quarters of contraction in GDP in the first half of the year, these robust job market numbers strongly argue against recession talk,” Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst, said in a statement.

This report, viewed in conjunction with the latest data that shows job openings still far surpassing the number of people looking for work, could put pressure on the Federal Reserve to continue its spate of hawkish rate hikes, he added.

“As [Fed Chair] Jerome Powell and his colleagues continue to judge the job market as hot, that stays on the side of the ledger compelling them to continue to raise interest rates,” he said.

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