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Unemployment in U.S. falls to 7.7 percent

- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2012

The nation's unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent last month — the lowest in nearly four years — as businesses added another 146,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.

The job gains were close to the average of 151,000 a month so far this year — enough new openings to slowly put the 12 million people who are job-hunting back to work. Nearly 50,000 fewer jobs were created in September and October than originally reported by the department, however, according to revisions based on more complete information from the states. The rate is lowest recorded since December 2008, just before President Obama took office.

Superstorm Sandy had little apparent effect on the job market, despite making landfall in the Northeast only days before the department conducted its survey of households and businesses, Labor officials said. The report also indicates that businesses did not slow hiring as much as feared out of concern that the federal budget's "fiscal cliff" will disrupt the economy next year.

Instead, the buoyant holiday mood appeared to prevail. As would be expected at this time of year when Christmas sales are raging, November's job gains were concentrated in retail as well as health care and professional services. The most hiring was seen in clothing, electronics and general merchandise stores.

Chris Williamson, economist at Markit.com, said the report was surprisingly strong, given the impact of the devastating storm that hit the country's most densely populated region and the political headwinds buffeting the economy.

"This confounds analysts' expectations of weaker growth due to storm disruptions," he said. Many economists likely will have to increase their forecasts for economic growth in the fourth quarter, based on the better-than-expected job performance, he said.

"Despite the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. economy showed remarkable resilience," said Adam Hersh, economist at the Center for American Progress. "The economy continues heading in the right direction, though still not fast enough. The biggest risk to a stronger labor market remains the potential for self-inflicted damage from bad policy decisions" as Congress and the White House wrestle over what to do about the fiscal cliff, he said.

Besides retail, other sector where jobs grew included computer systems design, information and leisure industries. There were employment declines, however, in manufacturing, construction and government, and average hourly wages rose at a tepid 1.7 percent over the last year. The average workweek was unchanged at 34.4 hours.

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