WASHINGTON (AP) - In the most impressive surge for the job market since early last year, the United States added 243,000 jobs in January, far more than economists expected. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.
Hiring accelerated across the economy and up and down the pay scale. The high-salary professional services industry added 70,000 jobs, the most in 10 months. Manufacturing added 50,000, the most in a year.
"This is a very positive employment report from almost any angle," said Brian Bethune, an economics professor at Amherst College.
Associated Press photo
Works on framework
An ironworker works in the steel framework of a roof in the remodeling of a downtown hotel in Pittsburgh.
Money poured into the stock market, already off to its best start in 15 years because of improving confidence in the economy, and out of more conservative investments in bonds.
The 243,000 jobs added far exceeded the estimate by economists of 155,000, according to FactSet, a provider of financial data. Other economist estimates were even lower.
It was the most jobs created since April of last year, when 251,000 jobs were created. Before last spring, the last month with stronger hiring, excluding temporary hiring for the census, was March 2006 - almost two years before the Great Recession.
Hiring was stronger in November and December by 60,000 jobs than first estimated. It was also stronger over the past two years than previously thought. The economy added 1.82 million jobs last year, nearly twice as many as in 2010.
The unemployment rate came down two notches from the 8.5 percent in December. It was also the fifth consecutive month the rate has fallen, the first time that has happened since late 1994.
The government uses a survey of mostly large companies and government agencies to determine how many jobs were added or lost each month. It uses a separate survey of households to determine the unemployment rate.
The household survey had more encouraging news: 631,000 people said they found work in January. That pushed the number of unemployed down to 12.8 million, the fewest in three years.
And a quarter-million people streamed back into the work force and started looking for jobs. Because people are counted as unemployed only if they are looking for work, that makes the drop in the unemployment rate all the more impressive.
Eleven million people are either working part-time but would prefer full-time work, or have stopped searching for jobs. When those people are added to the 12.8 million unemployed, nearly 24 million are considered "underemployed." The so-called "underemployment" rate edged down in January to 15.1 percent, from 15.2 percent.
Employers have added an average of 201,000 jobs a month in the past three months. That's 50,000 more jobs per month than the economy averaged in each month last year.
The Labor Department's January jobs report was filled with other encouraging data and revisions. The economy added 200,000 more jobs in 2011 than first thought.