The Labor Department's monthly gauge of the national employment situation in July, released Friday, put the unemployment rate at 5.7%, the highest it has been since early 2004.

While the rate was in line with the expectations of the Federal Reserve and most private economists, it still raised fresh fears that the economy is in danger of falling into recession during the second half of 2008.

The number of unemployed rose to 8.8 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as non-farm payrolls lost 51,000 jobs in July. The number of unemployed has increased by 1.6 million over the past 12 months. There are another 1.6 million longer-term unemployed people who were not counted in the overall figure because they have not searched for a job in the past four months.

Construction again was among the chief contributors to the decline, losing 22,000 jobs in July. Construction has now los 557,000 since a peak in September 2006; nearly three-quarters of the decline has occurred since October 2007. Nearly all of the July employment decrease came among specialty trade contractors (-20,000) in both residential and nonresidential construction.

There were also losses in manufacturing, retail, professional and business services, the information industries and telecommunications. Increases were posted by health care, computer systems and design and mining, which has expanded by 45% since a low in 2003, primarily in the oil and gas sector.