Image: Job seekers prepare for career fair to open at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey
MIKE SEGAR  /  Reuters
Job seekers prepare for a career fair set to open at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Businesses stepped up hiring in December, adding a net total of 103,000 jobs during the month.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/7/2011 12:27:28 PM ET 2011-01-07T17:27:28

Businesses stepped up hiring in December, adding a net total of 103,000 jobs during the month and offering a little hope for a sustained improvement in the struggling U.S. jobs market.

The Labor Department said government jobs fell by 10,000 in December, but private employers — the backbone of the economy — boosted hiring, adding 113,000 jobs after a gain of 50,000 jobs in November.

The December job gains helped to drive down the jobless rate to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent in the previous month, marking the largest one-month decline in the nation’s unemployment rate since April 1998. December’s jobless rate was the lowest since May 2009.

However, the drop in the unemployment rate for December can partly be explained by a drop in the number of people considered to be in the labor force. That could be because some people gave up on finding a job. A person is no longer counted as unemployed if they are no longer looking for work.

  1. More must-see stories
    1. The Hartford Courant, Political
      Wild Wall St.

      Has the market volatility got you nervous? These cartoons may give you a little comic relief.

    2. Cyber-thieves create fake Kelley Blue Book site
    3. US says Reebok toning shoes don't really
    4. Can you live on $9 an hour? Play the game

The decline in the jobless rate will have an important psychological effect, noted Torsten Slok, an economist at Deutsche Bank.

“The Fed has been worried about the unemployment rate, so the further it gets away from 10 percent, I think that’s good news,” Slok told CNBC Friday.

December’s overall payroll gain was smaller than the 145,000 that economists predicted. Still, more people were hired in previous months than the government first estimated.

The government's revisions showed the economy added 210,000 jobs in October, above the previous figure of 172,000. November's total was revised to 71,000, up from 39,000.

Over the past three months, the economy has added an average of 128,000 jobs. That's just enough to keep up with the population growth. Nearly double is generally needed to significantly reduce the unemployment rate.

Speaking at a window manufacturing plant in Landover, Md., Friday morning, President Barack Obama said December’s job report shows a clear trend toward economic improvement and stronger growth. But he also cautioned the recovery will take time.

“This was a brutal recession we went through; the worst in our lifetimes, and it left a lot of destruction in its wake,” Obama said, adding that his administration “will not rest until we have fully recovered from this recession and we have reached a brighter day.”

Major Market Indices

Obama also announced the appointment of Gene Sperling as the new head of his National Economic Council.

In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee Friday morning Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a more optimistic outlook for the economy, saying there is increasing evidence that a “self-sustaining” recovery is taking hold.

However, speaking on Friday's 103,000 job gains, Bernanke also said if that pace of job creation were to be maintained “you won't see sustained declines in the unemployment rate.”

Story: Fed chief more hopeful about economy

Some economists had predicted a far more optimistic reading on the job market Friday after a private payroll firm estimated earlier this week that companies added nearly 300,000 jobs in December.

Also encouraging was a report Thursday that fewer people applied for unemployment benefits over the past month than in any four-week period in more than two years.

A decline in layoffs has consumers feeling better about the economy and spending more freely. This past holiday shopping season was the best in four years.

And a payroll tax cut that goes into effect this month will give Americans even more money in the new year. Economists expect that will boost economic growth and give businesses more confidence to hire.

“Consumers are no longer as concerned about their job security, and that’s giving them a little more confidence to go out and spend,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody's Analytics.

The economy needs to generate about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth and prevent the unemployment rate from rising. More than double that amount is needed to reduce the rate.

Last year, the nation added an average of 86,500 jobs a month through November. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, actually rose — from 9.7 percent in January to 9.8 percent in November.

But many economists expect hiring to ramp up in 2011. Goldman Sachs projects that employers will add 2.2 million jobs this year, or about 180,000 a month, double last year's amount. Moody's Analytics puts the figure at about 250,000 per month.

Still, the recession left a deep hole in the job market. More than 7.3 million jobs were eliminated during the downturn. Most economists expect the unemployment rate will still be near 9 percent by the end of 2011.

Story: Jobless rate likely to fall further, but slowly

Fewer people said they were out of work last month. The number of unemployed fell by more than 500,000 to just under 14.5 million, the lowest since April 2009.

The unemployment rate has topped 9 percent for 20 months, the longest such streak on record. And even with last year's job gains, the unemployment rate fell only from 9.7 percent to 9.4 percent.

Through all of 2010, the nation added 1.1 million jobs, or an average of 94,000 jobs a month.

The health care and leisure and hospitality sectors showed the strongest job gains last month. Health care added about 36,000 jobs, while restaurants and hotels hired more than 29,000 new workers.

Retailers added 12,000 net new jobs, and manufacturers 10,000. The bleeding continued in construction, which cut 16,000 jobs.

Including those who are working part-time but would prefer full-time work, and those who have given up looking for work, the underemployment rate was 16.7 percent last month. That's down from 17 percent in November.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: For the lucky few, it's back to work once again

  1. Closed captioning of: For the lucky few, it's back to work once again

    >>> good evening. and the headline tonight seems to be this -- good news just not enough of it. unemployment is down to 9.4% from 9.8%. just over 100,000 jobs were added in december, and we learned today just over a million jobs were added last year. but here's the problem, the head of the fed says we need years of that job growth , and many are worried that some jobs aren't coming back, regardless of whether or not there are people who want to fill them. so a whole lot of americans are going to hear reports like this. hear people like us saying it's better out there. only they're not going to see the evidence, not yet. as reflected in our report tonight from nbc's kevin tibbles in chicago.

    >> reporter: it's the biggest one-month drop in unemployment since april, 1998 . on the surface, good news. but where are the jobs? the unemployment numbers reveal 14.5 million americans remain out of work. 6.4 million of them for more than six months.

    >> we're now 18 months into the waiting for when will we see a big job creation number that suggests that job creation engine has turned on?

    >> reporter: december job creation simply did not materialize at the predicted pace. so the falling unemployment rate indicates many people have simply stopped looking. the president today acknowledged the listless recovery while visiting a small window manufacturing plant in landover, maryland.

    >> you still got a whole bunch of folks who are out there looking, still struggling. we've got a big hole we're digging ourselves out of.

    >> reporter: for some, that hole is deeper than others. among african- americans , the unemployment rate is 15.8% and for hispanics, 13.8%. but in bloomington, minnesota, finally after a year and a half, chrissy clocker is working again.

    >> initially when i first got unemployed, it was tragic.

    >> reporter: after waitressing part time , the 25-year-old engineer found her dream job working on filtration systems for donaldson company. donaldson laid off 2,800 workers in the recession. its ceo says an uptick in orders now means he's hiring.

    >> we're expecting our sales to be back to record levels and our employment to be close, as well.

    >> reporter: accounting firm mcgladry says it's looking to fill 1,100 new jobs in the new year.

    >> we see more confidence in our clients, which gives us confidence.

    >> reporter: john challenger says the recession hit so hard, it will make many businesses time to have confidence in any positive numbers.

    >> coming out of a deep recession, nobody believes the recovery is for real or we're out of the woods.

    >> reporter: testifying before the senate budget committee today, ben bernanke said he too is concerned about the job numbers and said it could take four to five years for the job market to fully recovery. brian?

    >> kevin , thanks. kevin tibbles starting us off on a cold night in chicago tonight .

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.32%
$30K home equity loan FICO 4.99%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.36%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 11.04%
11.04%
Cash Back Cards 16.44%
16.44%
Rewards Cards 16.04%
16.04%
Source: Bankrate.com