U.S. jobless rate stays at 10% in December

The U.S. economy shed a larger-than-expected 85,000 jobs in December, a disappointing finish to a year that saw more than 4 million jobs disappear, according to a government report today.

The unemployment rate last month held steady at 10% last month, but only because more people dropped out of the workforce.

Economists were expecting the nation’s total payrolls in December to show virtually no change from November, when the economy added a net 4,000 jobs, according to revised figures released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Previously, the government said employers cut 11,000 jobs in November.

The difference is statistically insignificant. More important is the trend line, and the net job losses in December suggest that a rebound in hiring has yet to materialize despite a recovery in the broader economy.

The economy needs to create roughly 125,000 new net jobs a month to keep pace with the growing population and workforce, and economists say it will take growth of at least that many payrolls a month to make an appreciable dent in the unemployment rate.

Nearly all of the job losses last month were due to cuts in manufacturing and construction – the two industries that have borne the brunt of the employment declines over the last two years.

In a positive sign, the temporary-help industry, considered a harbinger of broader hiring, continued to add jobs at the end of last year. But the average weekly work hours in December was unchanged at 33.2, near a record low, suggesting that employers remain reluctant to increase labor at a time of uncertainty.