The U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs in December, according to the Labor Department, while the unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent.
Economists had on average expected a gain of 160,000 jobs, which partly reflected the shockingly high reading from Wednesday's ADP employment report, which measures private-sector job growth based on payroll data. That report stunned forecasters by registering a net gain of 297,000 jobs.
Economists and policymakers had been anxiously awaiting this morning's release as evidence mounted that it could be the strongest private-sector jobs number since before the recession. But forecasters had also sounded an optimistic note in predictions for November's numbers, only to be sorely disappointed by what was then a reading of only 39,000 jobs added.
Though the monthly job-creation estimates attract enormous attention among both investors and the general public, they are precarious numbers. The Labor Department frequently revises by large amounts a month or two later. And because the net change in new jobs per month is a minuscule fraction of all jobs in the country, the numbers are often volatile from month to month.