Healthy U.S. job growth in December. Has the economy turned the corner?

| Friday, January 6, 2012
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The United States added 200,000 new jobs in December and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, the Labor Department reported this morning.

For the year, the national economy produced 1.6 million jobs, even as the country was consumed by a steady drumbeat of bad global news, including Japan's earthquake, the European debt crisis and a downgrade in the United States' credit rating.

It's an even better story for the private sector, which created 1.9 million jobs last year. Government jobs fell by 300,000, primarily because financially strapped local governments and school districts have been chopping jobs.

Manufacturing added 23,000 jobs in December, including 9,000 in transportation equipment. Many of those jobs likely were in Michigan, where automakers and suppliers have started to hire again. We'll know when state unemployment figures are released on Jan. 18.

There's still a long way to go before workers can feel good again about the job market. Jobs have not returned to pre-recession levels. And there are 5.6 million people who have been out of work for more than six months, 43 percent of all unemployed workers.

Still, December's job numbers were pretty good news, except for Republican presidential candidates who are trying to make the case that things are getting worse under President Barack Obama.

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