Jobless rate at 3-year low as payrolls surge

Fri Feb 3, 2012 5:14pm EST
 
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States created jobs at the fastest pace in nine months in January and the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to a near three-year low, giving a boost to President Barack Obama.

Nonfarm payrolls jumped 243,000, the Labor Department said on Friday, as factory jobs grew by the most in a year. The jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent - the lowest since February 2009 - from 8.5 percent in December.

The gain in employment was the largest since April and it far outstripped the 150,000 predicted in a Reuters poll of economists. It hinted at underlying economic strength and lessened chances of further stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

"More pistons in the economic engine have begun to fire, pointing to accelerating economic growth. One of the happiest persons reading this job report is President Obama," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University Channel Islands.

The payroll gains were widespread - from retail to temporary help, and from construction to manufacturing - an indication the recovery was becoming more durable.

A survey of households showed the unemployment rate declined even as new job seekers flooded into the labor force. Economists had expected the jobless rate, which has now fallen 0.8 percentage point since August, to hold steady.

"I think this is a sign that maybe the economy is reaching that holy grail of a self-sustaining economic expansion," Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh, told Reuters Insider.

The outlook was further brightened by a separate report showing service sector activity quickened last month to a near one-year high. A gauge of service sector employment touched a six-year high.   Continued...

 
<p>Job seekers stand in line to speak with an employer at a job fair in San Francisco, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>