Unemployment rate falls to 8.5% as hiring spikes
A burst of hiring in December pushed the unemployment rate to its lowest level in nearly three years, giving the economy a boost at the end of 2011. The Labor Department reports today that employers added a net 200,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate fell to 8.5%, the lowest since February 2009. The rate has now dropped for four straight months. The hiring gains cap a six-month stretch in which the economy generated 100,000 jobs or more in each month. That hasn't happened since April 2006. For all of 2011, the economy added 1.6 million jobs, better than the 940,000 added in 2010. The unemployment rate averaged 8.9% last year, down from 9.6% the previous year. Economists forecast that the job gains will top 2.1 million this year. The December report painted a picture of a broadly improving job market. Average hourly pay rose, providing consumers with more income to spend. The average work week lengthened, a sign that business is picking up and that companies may soon need more workers. And hiring was strong across almost all major industries. Manufacturing added 23,000 jobs, as did the health care industry. Transportation and warehousing added 50,000 jobs. Retailers added 28,000 jobs. Even the beleaguered construction industry added 17,000 workers. Read the full story from The Associated Press here.
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