Unemployment in the US – the world’s largest economy – has fallen to its lowest level in nearly three years.
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The jobless rate has dropped to 8.5% in December, from 8.7% the previous month. It has reached its lowest level since February 2009.
At the same time employment grew by 200,000, with hiring reported across sectors.
The non-farm payroll data was better than expected and signalled a strengthening in the US economic recovery.
The data is also a key indicator of the broader economic health, showing that the world’s biggest consumer was shrugging off the crisis in the eurozone.
It has also been revealed that 1.64 million jobs were created in the country in 2011 – the most since 2006.
Dan Greenhaus, an analyst at the brokerage firm BTIG, said: “There is no question that today’s employment report is a positive and there is also no question that the pace of job growth has accelerated of late.”
The data, closely watched by the markets, may provide the boost US President Barack Obama hoped for ahead of his re-election bid this year.
The figures came as unemployment in the eurozone remained at an all-time high of 10.3% for the second month running.
More than 16.3 million people were out of work in the 17-nation euro area in November, according to the Eurostat data agency.
Unemployment rose by 587,000 compared with November the previous year.
The jobless rate across the wider 27-nation European Union also remained unchanged at 9.8%.