U.S. jobless rate declines as payrolls keep growing

The unemployment rate in the United States has dropped to its lowest level in 18 months even as payrolls continue to grow.

According to the latest estimates from the Department of Commerce, the monthly unemployment rate dropped four-tenths to 9.4 percent in December. Meanwhile, nonfarm payrolls grew 103,000.

The latest jobless rate is the lowest since May 2009. With gains in each of the last three months, payroll employment has  grown 1.1 million since December 2009 for an average monthly gain of 94,000.
Initial estimates of job gains in October and November were revised upward a combined 70,000 to 281,000.

For December, leisure and hospitality led gaining industry sectors with a net 47,000 new jobs, more than half of those in food services and drinking places.

Employment continued to expand in the health care sector with a total net gain of 36,000 jobs in ambulatory services, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.

Employment in temporary help services rose as well with 16,000 net new jobs. Payrolls rose 12,000 in retail trades, 10,000 in manufacturing and 5,000 in mining.

Construction employment continued to trend downward with a net loss of 16,000.

The average workweek for employees on nonfarm payrolls remained unchanged in December at 34.3 hours. The average manufacturing workweek slipped a tenth of an hour to 40.2 hours.

Average hourly earnings of employees on nonfarm payrolls rose 3 cents in December to $22.78. Over the past year,  average hourly earnings have increased 1.8 percent.