Employment grew faster than expected in November as the hit from superstorm Sandy on payrolls was less forceful than many feared.
At the same time, the jobless rate fell to a near four-year low, but that was largely because so many Americans gave up the hunt for work.
Nonfarm employment increased by 146,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, defying expectations of a sharp pull back related to superstorm Sandy.
The government said the storm which slammed the densely populated East Coast had not had a substantive impact on last month’s employment and unemployment estimates.
U.S. financial markets appeared to put more faith in the payroll growth figures, with stock index futures turning positive and prices for U.S. government debt falling.
“The labor market is not getting worse, but is also not getting much better as it is unchanged relative to the recent trend,” said Jacob Oubina, a senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.
The 0.2 percentage point drop in the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent — the lowest since December 2008 — represented a drop in both the labor force and employment as measured by a survey of households. Economists generally rely more heavily on the payrolls reading from the separate and much larger survey of employers.
While job gains for both September and October were revised to show 49,000 fewer jobs created than earlier reported, the revision was concentrated in the government sector.
Job gains have averaged 151,000 per month this year, just enough to push the jobless rate lower, but only slowly. Economists say roughly 200,000-250,000 jobs per month are needed to really make headway.