The U.S. job market strengthened at the start of the year as employers added an unexpectedly large number of new jobs and the unemployment rate in January dropped for the fifth straight month to 8.3%--the lowest in nearly three years.
The Labor Department said Friday that employers nationwide added 243,000 net new jobs in January – about 100,000 more than what analysts were forecasting. Job gains were broad-based, powered by increases in manufacturing, professional and business services such as accounting and engineering, and in leisure and healthcare industries.
Government, however, continued to trim its payrolls, and the information sector also reported job losses, notably at motion pictures and sound recording firms. With the step-up in private-sector jobs, the nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.3% last month from 8.5% in December. The last time it was that low was February 2009.
The jobless rate has fallen every month since August, when the rate was 9.1%. Most economists were expecting the January unemployment rate to tick higher or at best stay the same. The Labor Department also said there was a little more hiring momentum at the end of last year than previously thought.
Revised data Friday showed that employers added 157,000 jobs in November, compared to 100,000 initially estimated. Job growth in December was 203,000. For all the encouraging news, the report Friday said 12.8 million people remained unemployed – 43% of them for more than six months – and that another 8.2 million part-time workers couldn’t find full-time employment.
With the latest job gains, total payrolls in the nation stand about 5.6 million less than at the start of the recession in late 2007.