U.S. Unemployment Rate Drops to 8.3%

The U.S. jobless rate dropped unexpectedly in January to the lowest level in three years, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington.

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The national unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent last month, the lowest since February 2009, as the economy added 243,000 jobs.

The data comes one week after Federal Reserve policymakers said the economy wasn’t growing fast enough to push down the jobless rate, prompting them to extend their pledge to keep interest rates low until late 2014.

But now that employers are seen stepping up new hires, doubt has been raised as to whether the central bank can keep interest rates low for another two years.

Today’s report includes revisions adding a total of 60,000 jobs to payrolls in November and December. The Labor Department also revised December’s gains to 203,000, from an initially reported 200,000.

Manufacturing, construction, temporary help agencies, accounting firms, restaurants, and retailers all contributed to the jump in employment, with the number of industries showing job gains climbing to 64.1 in January, from 62.4 a month earlier.

Factory workers averaged 41.9 hours of work each week — the most since January 1998 — while overtime hours climbed to the highest since March 2007, indicating …

that employers are squeezing as much work out of their existing employees as they can while still having to seek new hires. Manufacturing payrolls increased by 50,000 in January, the most in a year.

Employment at service-providers increased 162,000, reflecting faster job gains in retail, transportation, and leisure and hospitality. Construction companies added 21,000 jobs last month.

The private sector added a total of 257,000 jobs in January, while government payrolls decreased by 14,000, reflecting cuts at federal and local levels.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com