The U.S. economy created just 74,000 jobs in December, but the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent as fewer people apparently looked for work.
Reuters reported that the hiring gain was the smallest since January 2011, but said the setback was likely to be temporary because there were signs that cold weather could have affected the numbers.
The unemployment rate was the lowest since October 2008 and mostly reflected people leaving the labor force, Reuters said. The data on hiring were at odds with other employment indicators that have painted an upbeat picture of the jobs market.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 38,000 more jobs were added in November than was previously reported.
"It looks like it's a weather issue — a big drop in construction and a 1,000 drop in transportation. People will focus on the unemployment rate drop and the upward revision to the prior month," John Canally, an economist for LPL Financial in Boston, told Reuters.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the number of unemployed people declined by 490,000 to 10.4 million in December, reporting that employment rose in retail and wholesale trade, but was down in information.
The long-term unemployed — those jobless for 27 weeks or more — totaled 3.9 million, a number that changed little during the month, the government said; that group accounted for 37.7 percent of the unemployed.
The number of people employed part time for economic reasons was essentially unchanged at 7.8 million in December. Those people were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time work.
The government said 2.4 million people were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. The data are not seasonally adjusted.
Those people were not in the labor force, but they wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the government’s survey.
Among the marginally attached, there were 917,000 discouraged workers in December, down by 151,000 from a year earlier. Discouraged workers are people who are not looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.