Capping the best year for the job market since the recession began eight years ago, employers added 252,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department reported Friday, and unemployment fell to 5.6 percent. The unemployment rate was last that low in June 2008.
The number of new people put on payrolls last month was above what economists had forecast, consistent with the view that recovery is finally gaining traction after years of only modest growth. In addition, the number of jobs created in November was revised upward to 353,000, from 321,000. That month, the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent.
Millions of workers are still looking for full-time employment, while even more have been so discouraged that they have either dropped out of the labor force or reluctantly accepted part-time work. The share of men in their prime, working years who are not working has more than tripled since the 1960s. While the share of the work force put out of work for a relatively short time has returned to historical levels, long-term unemployment remains highly elevated, and nearly a third of those have not been able to find a job for more than two years.