WASHINGTON — Manufacturers and business service providers posted a strong month of hiring in April, helping cut the U.S. unemployment rate to 3.9 percent, the lowest level since December 2000.

Employment in manufacturing grew by 24,000. Much of the growth stemmed from makers of durable goods, like machinery and fabricated metal products. Over the past year, that sector has added 245,000 jobs, with durable goods accounting for about three-fourths of the increase.

Professional services added 54,000 jobs last month, driven by positions in computer systems, temporary help and building services. The sector has been the strongest performer over the past 12 months, having added more than a half-million jobs.

Health care also registered a solid month of hiring, with more than 24,000 added jobs at physicians' offices, dental clinics and home health care.

Overall, U.S. employers added 164,000 jobs in April, up from an upwardly revised 135,000 in March, the Labor Department said Friday.