The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to the lowest level in more than two years in November. The report shows a mixed picture, however, for the troubled U.S. job market.
The news for people lining up to apply for jobs got a little better on Friday. The Labor Department says November's jobless rate was 8.6 percent, an improvement of four-tenths of a percent from October.
The data also show that the U.S. economy gained 120,000 jobs, which is about the number of jobs needed to accomodate new entrants to the workforce.
The slow economy has hurt city and state governments, which continued cutting jobs. But private companies boosted hiring by 140,000, particularly in retail, professional services, and health care.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the American economy has created private sector jobs for the past 21 months, nearly three million in all.
Mr. Obama said "we need to keep that growth going" and urged Congress to stop blocking laws that he said would help create jobs.
"Now is not the time to slam the brakes on the recovery, right now is the time to step on the gas," he said. "We need to get this done."
The high unemployment rate is a top issue in the 2012 race for president. And Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, again blamed U.S. economic problems on President Obama's policies.
"Any job creation is welcome news, but the unemployment rate in our country is still unacceptably high," he said. "November marks the 34th consecutive month with unemployment above eight percent.
Boehner says a closer look shows that the rate declined in part because 300,000 people grew so discouraged that they gave up their search for work. Only people who are seeking work are counted as unemployed.
But Democratic strategist Steve McMahon has said an improving economy will help Mr. Obama's chances for reelection.
"What matters most in a presidential campaign, at the end, when it comes to the economy, is do people think things are getting better and on a path to getting better," he said.
On the streets of New York City, some people doubt the economy will improve.
“I think I’ll have a job. I don’t think things will get better for that many people," said Lisa Ramini, an unemployed worker.
So is she pretty pessimistic?
“Yeah, it doesn’t seem like it’s getting better," she said. "It’s been a while now that people have been without jobs. There hasn’t been much improvement this far.”
Others welcomed the job gains.
“Any improvement is good, yeah I hope we are on the right track,” said one man.
The newest data show that 13.3 million people are officially unemployed in the United States. Millions more want full-time work but can find only part-time jobs.