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US Unemployment Dips to 6.6 Percent, but Hiring Continues to Slow

Unemployment in the U.S. has fallen to a five-year low. The Labor Department says the economy added 113,000 jobs in January - well below expectations of 180,000 - but enough to push the nation’s unemployment rate down to 6.6 percent. Still, there are growing concerns the labor market has cooled - in more ways than one.

It’s a mixed picture for the U.S. labor market. On the one hand, employers added more jobs than in the previous month. On the other, job creation remained frustratingly weak, according to bureau chief Mark Hamrick via Skype.

“Most worrisome thing is that hiring has not been at the robust level that was seen in previous recoveries,” he said.

Job growth in January was well below the average monthly gains for last year, when employers were hiring an average of nearly 200,000 workers each month.

But Hamrick said the demand for workers may have cooled in January for a number of reasons. “We know that severe weather has really been making an impact across much of the United States and so we’ve seen, for example, car sales down. We know that housing activity’s been affected, and surely the consumer has been hibernating - in many cases because it's miserable out there,” he said.

Despite snowy conditions in many parts of the country, employment grew in the manufacturing and construction sectors. And the labor participation rate improved slightly as more Americans started looking for work.

But while the unemployment rate is now the lowest since 2008, some labor experts say more Americans are taking lower-paying jobs, and others are going back to school. Also, some people -- especially those who have been out of work six months or longer - are dropping out of the labor pool altogether, said economist Ken Simonson.

“So in three different ways, it may actually drive down the unemployment rate, but not all of those will produce immediate benefits for the economy,” said Simonson.

On Wall Street, investors appear to have shrugged off the weaker-than-expected job numbers -- sending stock prices higher on expectations of more robust growth and warmer weather in the coming months.