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US Jobless Rate Dips

  • Kent Klein

A woman browses job openings at a job fair in Los Angeles, California, (File)

A woman browses job openings at a job fair in Los Angeles, California, (File)

The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest rate in a year and a half, although fewer jobs were created than expected. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has chosen several new economic advisers.

The nation’s jobless rate took a surprising tumble in December, to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent the month before.

But the U.S. Labor Department says only 103,000 jobs were added in December, far short of most forecasts.

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Although the report suggests an increasing number of Americans are giving up on looking for work, President Obama said Friday the numbers are encouraging. “The trend is clear. We saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth. That is the first time that has been true since 2006," he said.

While visiting a window factory near Washington, the president said the economy added 1.3 million jobs last year, the best one-year gain since 2007, and he expects more good news to come. “Each quarter was stronger than the previous quarter, which means that the pace of hiring is beginning to pick up. We are also seeing more optimistic economic forecasts for the year ahead," he said.

But Mr. Obama said the figures underscore the need for his economic team to work harder to improve the economy.

The president named several new members of that team Friday, led by Gene Sperling, who will be the director of the National Economic Council.

Sperling held the same job during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990’s, and Mr. Obama is hoping to duplicate the economic successes of that era. “He helped formulate the policies that contributed to turning deficits to surpluses, and a time of prosperity and progress for American families in a sustained way," he said.

He replaces Larry Summers, who stepped down late last year to return to Harvard University.

The president said Sperling worked with him to devise the tax cut compromise with Republicans which enabled other key legislation to be passed before the end of last year’s congressional session.

While visiting the window company Friday, Mr. Obama encouraged American businesses to take advantage of tax breaks and do more hiring and spending.

The leader of the nation’s central bank was cautiously optimistic about the path of the U.S. economy when he testified before Congress Friday.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers there is increased evidence that a recovery in consumer and business spending may be taking hold.