Unemployment rate falls to lowest level since 2008

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Numbers are seasonally adjusted (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Numbers are seasonally adjusted (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Numbers are seasonally adjusted (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Numbers are seasonally adjusted (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Modest hiring continued in November and the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in nearly four years, according to a report released Friday.

The U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7% from 7.9% in October, the Labor Department said. That’s the lowest unemployment rate since December 2008.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney had expected a far weaker report, factoring in distortions from Superstorm Sandy. Despite the storm, the Labor Department said its survey response rates were in normal ranges.

“Our analysis suggests that Hurricane Sandy did not substantively impact the national employment and unemployment estimates for November,” the Labor Department said in a press release.

The Labor Department typically revises its jobs numbers several times. In Friday’s report, job growth was revised lower in both September and October, subtracting 49,000 jobs from the 2012 total.

Of the job gains in November, more than a third, or 52,600, came from retailers, but much of that was likely due to temporary holiday hiring.

Economists at the Labor Department try to adjust for seasonal trends like holiday hiring, but this year the raw data showed retailers hired more workers in November than any other month on record since 1939.

Professional business services hired 43,000 workers in November, seasonally adjusted. Health care added 20,000 jobs.

Why the unemployment rate fell

The payrolls number and the unemployment rate come from two separate surveys conducted by the Labor Department, and the data don’t always match up. While businesses largely reported they hired workers, a survey of households said just the opposite.

Households claimed they had 122,000 fewer jobs in November, and also showed 350,000 people dropped out of the labor force.

The unemployment rate fell largely because there were fewer people looking for work. The Labor Department only counts people who have searched for a job in the last four weeks as officially unemployed.

About 12 million people were counted as unemployed in November, down from 12.3 million a month earlier.

Overall, the U.S. labor market has still not completely recovered from the financial crisis. Of the 8.8 million jobs lost, about 4.2 million have still not been added back.

Economists often say that job growth around 150,000 a month is enough to keep up with population growth, but not much more.

“At this rate of job growth, it will take us more than 10 years to get back to the pre-recession unemployment rate,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist for the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “The November data provide a clear reminder that mass joblessness remains the real and present economic danger this country faces.”

Stocks rose at the opening bell, following the report.

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