The U.S. economy picked up 243,000 jobs in January as the unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent, the Labor Department reported on Friday.
The surprise decrease in unemployment—the lowest level since February, 2009—boosts President Obama's election-year narrative of slow, steady economic improvement during his term.
The labor-force participation rate held steady, suggesting that the most recent drop in unemployment was due to jobs being added, rather than workers becoming discouraged and no longer seeking employment.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected payrolls to grow by 140,000 (compared with 200,000 in the previous month) and the unemployment rate to hold steady at 8.5 percent. The number of jobs added in November and December was revised up in Friday's report by a collective 60,000.
The largest employment gains in January came from professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. The number of government employees remained approximately the same.
But one group is still left out of the latest economic good news: the long-term unemployed, whose ranks were unchanged last month. Long-term unemployment has been a particularly vicious feature of the latest economic downturn, and economists have found long-term negative consequences for those who remain out of the work force for an extended period of time.