NPR logo Unemployment Dips To 5.6 Percent As Economy Adds 252K Jobs

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Unemployment Dips To 5.6 Percent As Economy Adds 252K Jobs

Former student Nathaniel Simmons operates a crane during a day of training at Georgia College of Construction. The Department of Labor says construction was one of several sectors that showed job gains in December. i

Former student Nathaniel Simmons operates a crane during a day of training at Georgia College of Construction. The Department of Labor says construction was one of several sectors that showed job gains in December. Branden Camp/AP hide caption

toggle caption Branden Camp/AP
Former student Nathaniel Simmons operates a crane during a day of training at Georgia College of Construction. The Department of Labor says construction was one of several sectors that showed job gains in December.

Former student Nathaniel Simmons operates a crane during a day of training at Georgia College of Construction. The Department of Labor says construction was one of several sectors that showed job gains in December.

Branden Camp/AP

Updated at 9:50 a.m. ET

The U.S. economy added 252,000 jobs in December, capping a 12-month stretch of job growth unmatched since 1999, according to the Labor Department. In a separate survey, the department says that the unemployment rate dipped to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent the previous month.

The department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job gains occurred in professional and business services, construction, food and drinking establishments, health care and manufacturing.

NPR's John Ydstie, reporting on Morning Edition ahead of this morning's announcement, says that it's been 15 years since job growth was so strong.

"[You] have to go all the way back to 1999, when companies were rapidly hiring IT workers to deal with the Y2K threat to computer systems. That year the economy added about 3.2 million new jobs," John says.

The number of jobs created in October and November was also revised upward by 50,000 for the two months combined, according to BLS.

"Data from the quarterly census of employment and wages suggests that once all the revisions are incorporated, the gains will be even higher for the year," says Sophia Koropeckyj, a senior economist and managing director at Moody's Analytics, says. She said Moody's "expects the momentum to continue with monthly job gains accelerating through 2015 and exceeding 300,000 by year end."

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers called the results a "milestone" for the U.S. labor market.

He said the president "has been laying out his vision to build on this progress by increasing access to community college, supporting the recovery in the housing sector and investing in U.S. manufacturing.

"On top of these steps, the President looks forward to working with Congress and taking action on his own authority to invest in America's infrastructure, close tax loopholes and encourage job creation in America, support working families, expand overseas markets for American goods and services, make common sense reforms to the immigration system, and raise the minimum wage," Furman said in a statement.

In a foreshadowing of today's new figures, a report out on Thursday showed fewer Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits.

Labor's Household Survey, which determines the official employment rate, showed 383,000 fewer people were considered unemployed, bringing that number to 8.7 million.

According to BLS: "Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult women (5.0 percent) decreased by 0.2 percentage point in December, while the rates for adult men (5.3 percent), teenagers (16.8 percent), whites (4.8 percent), blacks (10.4 percent), and Hispanics (6.5 percent) showed little change. The jobless rate for Asians, at 4.2 percent (not seasonally adjusted), changed little from a year earlier."

The number of so-called "discouraged workers" — those who have given up looking for work — stood at 740,000, down by 177,000 the year before.

Despite the good news, wage growth remains weak, with hourly pay actually slipping by 5 cents, the department says.

As The Associated Press notes:

"American businesses have been largely shrugging off signs of economic weakness overseas and continuing to hire at healthy rates. The U.S. economy's steady improvement is especially striking compared with the weakness in much of the world.

"Europe is barely growing, and its unemployment rate is nearly double the U.S. level. Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is in recession. Russia's economy is cratering as oil prices plummet. China is straining to manage a slowdown. Brazil and others in Latin America are struggling."

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