US unemployment rate dips to 8.5 percent

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US nonfarm payrolls rose by 200,000 in December, more than forecast, with the unemployment rate unexpectedly falling to 8.5 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.A survey of economists by Dow Jones Newswires expected December payrolls to rise by 155,000 and the unemployment rate to edge higher to 8.7 percent.November's nonfarm payroll figure was revised down to show a rise of 100,000 from a previously reported 120,000, and October was revised to a 112,000 gain from 100,000.The unemployment rate was revised up in November to 8.7 percent.Subtracting another decline in government jobs, the private sector boosted payrolls by 212,000. Average hourly earnings rose 0.2 percent last month to $23.24 and hours worked edged up to 34.4.All together, the economy has added jobs for 15 consecutive months since October 2010, according to Dow Jones Newswires. But the level of employment still pales in comparison to pre-recession figures.The economy added 1.6 million jobs in 2011, bringing payrolls to about 131.9 million last month. That is roughly 6.1 million less than January 2008, before the recession started taking a toll on the labor market.US stock futures extended gains on the report, after trading relatively flat earlier in the day.The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 69 points to 12,400 in pre-market trade. Futures for the S&P 500 were up 8.2 points at 1,281.30. Futures for the Nasdaq 100 climbed 13 points to 2,352.50.The dollar also continued to rise against the euro, with the single currency trading down to $1.2741 after hitting a 16-month low against the greenback.

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