U.S. Unemployment Rate Dropped to Two-Year Low in November

The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to a two-year low in November as employers stepped up hiring in response to the slowly improving economy.

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The jobless rate declined to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Such a steep decline was unexpected, as employers added fewer workers than projected in November and earnings eased.

Payrolls climbed 120,000, with more than half of the hiring coming from retailers and temporary help agencies. Many new jobs may only be seasonal — January figures will be the true test of whether the labor market is improving.

The unemployment rate, which is derived from a survey of households, was forecast to hold at 9 percent. The decrease in the jobless rate reflects a 278,000 gain in employment at the same time 315,000 Americans left the labor force.

The labor participation rate declined to 64 percent from 64.2 percent, while private hiring rose 140,000 after a revised gain of 117,000 in October. It was projected to rise by 150,000.

Employment at service providers increased 126,000, including a 50,000 gain in retail as companies hired for the holiday shopping season. The number of temporary workers increased 22,300.

Meanwhile, construction companies shed 12,000 workers, government payrolls decreased 20,000, and average hourly earnings fell 0.1 percent to $23.18. The average work week held at 34.3 hours.

The underemployment rate, which includes part-time workers who would prefer a full-time position, and people who want work but have given up looking, decreased to 15.6 percent from 16.2 percent.

The report also showed an increase in long-term unemployed Americans. The number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or more increased as a percentage of all the jobless, from 42.4 percent to 43 percent.

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