Although the unemployment rate dropped dramatically to 9.4% in December, the government reported, employers added only 103,000 jobs, below many analysts’ expectations. The report on average weekly work hours was also disappointing.

By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2011

Reporting from Washington —

The nation’s unemployment rate dipped last month to the lowest level since the spring of 2009. Still, the economy created substantially fewer new jobs than had been expected – a painful reminder of just how slow the jobs recovery may continue to be.

The Labor Department said Friday that a modest 103,000 jobs were added nationwide in December, suggesting that the drop in unemployment stemmed in large part from more workers giving up looking for jobs.

The jobless rate, which is the percentage of workers who report that they are looking for work but cannot find it, fell from 9.8% in November to 9.4% in December.

The Labor Department said all of the new jobs last month were generated in the private sector, mostly in healthcare and hospitality services. State and local governments continued to shed workers in the face of budget pressures.

Most economists were expecting about 150,000 new jobs in December, as recent unemployment filings, private employment surveys and other economic indicators suggested a possible acceleration of hiring. But far from being a breakthrough month, the net job creation in December was similar to the weak monthly average for all of 2010.

President Obama accentuated the positive elements in the report, noting that with the December numbers, the nation has seen 12 straight months of private-sector job growth.

“That’s the first time that’s been true since 2006,” he said in remarks Friday in Maryland as he toured a manufacturing plant, in what has become almost routine practice on the day of the monthly jobs’ release.

Private economists, however, were far less enthusiastic about the report.

“It was the same old slog story,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor expert at the Economic Policy Institute. “I think the hope of a quick pickup is premature.”

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