Still, the jobless rate has declined by 0.6 percent since August, and it now stands at its lowest level in nearly three years.
The improvement in the labor market is welcome news for President Obama, who has been widely criticized for the nation’s poor labor market. With the 2012 presidential campaign intensifying, Obama has struggled to win public approval for his handling of the economy, and steady job creation can only boost his political standing.
Speaking at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while introducing Richard Cordray as the new director, Obama used the report to promote the payroll tax cut extension as a factor in job creation.
“This morning we learned that American businesses added another 212,000 jobs last month. All together more private-sector jobs were created in 2011 than any year since 2005,” Obama said. “There are a lot of people that are still hurting out there, after losing more than 8 million jobs in the recession. Obviously, we have a lot more work to do. But it is important for the American people to recognize we added 3.2 million new private-sector jobs in the last 22 months, nearly 2 million new jobs last year alone....
“One of reasons is the tax cut we put in place last year,” Obama said. “When Congress returns, they should extend the payroll tax cut all year. There should not be delay, there should not be a lot of drama.”
The report showed solid gains across employment sectors, with the hard-hit construction industry adding 17,000 jobs, retailers adding nearly 28,000, transportation firms hiring 50,000 workers, and manufacturers adding 23,000 jobs.
The nation’s factories have added 334,000 jobs since December 2009 — about 13 percent of what was lost during the recession — marking the first sustained increase in manufacturing employment since 1997, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The upbeat jobs report capped an up-and-down 2011 for the U.S. labor market.
After brisk growth in the beginning of the year, job growth stalled in the wake of higher energy prices, the Japanese earthquake and the political fight over raising the nation’s debt limit. But the job market improved significantly in the final months of the year.
Even with the positive report, stubborn problems remain. Some 5.6 million Americans — 42.5 percent of the unemployed — have been jobless for more than six months, a figure that was unchanged in December.
Also, minority joblessness remained at catastrophic levels: The black unemployment rate was 15.8 percent in December, and the jobless rate for Hispanics was 11 percent.