The December gain in jobs, however, fell short of expectations. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had predicted a net 175,000 increase, with many raising their forecasts earlier this week after another key report indicated a pickup in hiring. See MarketWatch calendar of key economic indicators.
The slow U.S. recovery since the end of the recession in mid-2009 is partly the result of high unemployment, which depresses consumer spending, the single largest source of the nation’s economic growth. Increased hiring by businesses more confident in a U.S. recovery is seen as the key to nursing the economy back to good health.
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, dropped to 9.4% in December from 9.8% in November, according to a separate survey of 60,000 households. It’s the biggest one-month decline since April 1998.
In December, the ranks of unemployed fell to 14.5 million from 15 million, while the number of employed people increased by 300,000 to 139 million. Economists had been expecting the unemployment rate to remain flat. The jobless rate spiked to as high as 10.1% in October 2009, compared to under 5% before the 2007-2009 recession began.
The latest increase in job growth is one of many signs that the U.S. economy is gradually emerging from its malaise following the official end of the recession in the summer of 2009.
Earlier this week, for example, the giant payroll-processing firm ADP reported a surprisingly large 297,000 gain in private-sector employment last month. ADP data and the government’s payroll report track each other very closely over time, though some months can show large gaps between the two. That appeared to be the case in December.
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