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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 said Friday that employers added a net 200,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, the lowest since February 2009. The rate has 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. T
he steady drop is a positive sign for President Barack Obama, who is bound to face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any sitting president since World War II. Unemployment was 7.8 percent when Obama took office in January 2009.
Still, the level may matter less to his re-election chances if the rate continues to fall. History suggests that presidents' re-election prospects hinge less on the unemployment rate itself than on the rate's direction during the year or two before Election Day.
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 percent last year, down from 9.6 percent the previous year.
"some of the strength in this report should be discounted because of an seasonal quirk in the courier category of payrolls (Fed-ex, UPS, etc). Jobs in this sector jumped 42,000 in December, repeating a pattern seen in 2009 and 2010 (see attached figure). We should see a payback in next month's report."
US forms Bureau of Counterterrorism and Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations