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U.S. jobless rate falls to 8.3% in January

February 3, 2012

U.S. unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in almost three years, according to the government’s employment report for January. The U.S. gained 243,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate dipped to 8.3% as nearly every sector of the economy added workers, the Labor Department said Friday.

The increase in hiring was the biggest since last April and shows further evidence that the economy continues to strengthen after a slowdown last summer. Hiring has also spread to most sectors of the economy. Jobs were added last month in manufacturing and construction, professional services, retail, health care, and food and restaurant establishments.

As part of its report, the Labor Department also issued its annual “benchmark” changes to employment data over the past 21 months. The newly revised data show that the U.S. gained 1.82 million jobs in 2011, up from an initial estimate of 1.64 million. In December, the increase in payrolls was revised up to 203,000 from an initial report of 200,000. And November payrolls were revised up to 157,000 from 100,000.

Although hiring has accelerated since the end of last summer, the U.S. still has a long way to go to recoup all the jobs lost during the recession. The nation has 5.6 million fewer jobs now than it did four years ago. As of last month, 12.76 million people were officially classified as unemployed, and 5.5 million have been without a job for more than six months. That was little changed from December.

Looked at another way, the unemployment rate is an even higher 15.1% if the data include people with part-time positions who cannot find full-time jobs as well as those who have recently given up looking for work. The so-called U6 rate fell from 15.2% in December.

The U.S. needs to add about 250,000 jobs a month for several years to bring the unemployment rate back down to pre-recession levels. The jobless rate ranged from 3.8% to 6.2% in the seven years prior to recession.

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