The world’s largest economy got some more much-needed good news Friday morning when the U.S. Labor Department reported that December’s unemployment rate fell to 8.5% from November’s 8.6%. That came as result of a better-than-expected 200,000 job increase in December.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Job gains occurred in transportation and warehousing, retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and mining.” The 8.5% rate is the lowest since February 2009, and in all of 2011 the economy created 1.6 million jobs.
Both the December job-creation number and the headline unemployment rate came in ahead of Bloomberg’s median forecast of economists, which estimated that payrolls would advance by 155,000 and that the jobless rate would tick up to 8.7% in the month.
Today’s release from the Labor Department adds to several recent reports showing a slowly but steadily improving U.S. labor market. Yesterday, ADP said U.S. companies increased payrolls by 325,000 in December, beating the median economist forecast for net hires of 178,000, according to Bloomberg.
Also on Thursday, the latest weekly report on new unemployment claims fell again to 372,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 387,000. The less volatile four-week moving average was 373,250, a decrease of 3,250 from the previous week’s revised report of 376,000.
European markets were slightly higher before the U.S. labor report was released. And futures on U.S. equity indexes also were higher before the report. They got another upward bump soon after the Labor Department’s announcement.
What’s good for the U.S. labor market might not be so good for the GOP presidential hopefuls who have been hammering at President Barack Obama’s stewardship of the country’s economy. Still, they have plenty of room to keep the criticism coming. After all, when Obama took office in January 2009, the jobless rate was 7.8%.
But at least now the previous trend of rising and stubbornly high unemployment is finally starting to turn downward.