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Nationwide, employers added 200,000 jobs in December and the country’s unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month to 8.5 percent.

Hiring picked up toward the end of 2011 as the economy improved. Analysts expect the economy expanded at an annual rate of about 3 percent in the October-December quarter, up from an anemic 0.9 percent pace in the first six months of last year.

SENATE

Lawmaker to keep seat empty for ailing Kirk

A Democratic senator who planned to sit with a Republican for President Obama’s State of the Union address says he will keep the seat empty in honor of his ailing colleague.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk suffered a stroke this past weekend and underwent surgery Sunday night. He is in intensive care at a Chicago hospital and doctors say he could lose full use of his left arm and experience facial paralysis.

In a statement, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III said the two were planning to sit together for Tuesday night’s speech in a show of bipartisanship. Instead, Mr. Manchin will keep the seat empty in Mr. Kirk’s honor.

Mr. Manchin called Mr. Kirk the kind of leader who will reach across the aisle to put country first.

FLORIDA

GOP debate casts light on sugar policy

TAMPA — The Republican presidential race has waded, at least for a moment, into the grainy details of U.S. sugar policy.

The topic came up during Monday night’s debate in Tampa, Fla., with Newt Gingrich saying it’s one of the fascinating things about America. He added that sugar subsidies would be cut in an ideal world.

Mitt Romney followed up by also calling for an end to subsidies.

Blogs and Twitter feeds lit up with the exchange. Those calling for overhauling sugar policy, including the candy industry, say they are happy the topic came up. The sugar industry says the policies are necessary to keep U.S. sugar companies from shutting down.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports