Unemployment rate falls to 8.5 percent; hiring surges

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A measure that includes those groups, the so-called underemployment rate, was 15.2 percent in December. It has fallen three straight months but remains historically high.

In another positive sign, the number of people who are employed part-time but would prefer full-time fell sharply for the third straight month. It has dropped from 9.3 million in September to 8.1 million in December, the lowest since January 2009.

A more robust hiring market coincides with data suggesting the economy ended the year with some momentum. Holiday sales were solid, and November and December were the strongest months of 2011 for U.S. auto sales.

AP economics writer Paul Wiseman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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