The U.S. says its labor market surged last month, with nearly a quarter million workers added to company payrolls, and that its unemployment rate fell ((two tenths of a percentage point)) to 8.3 percent, the lowest in almost three years.
In its closely watched monthly report, the government said Friday that 243,000 jobs were added to the economy, a month after the world's largest economy recorded 200,000 new jobs. The January figure -- the biggest addition in nine months -- substantially exceeded the early estimates of economists. Analysts said the report signaled that the sluggish U.S. economic recovery might be advancing at a faster pace than first thought.
Investors seemed heartened by the favorable news, boosting major U.S. stock indexes by more than one percent in early New York trading.
The jobs report and the jobless rate have perhaps become the two most important barometers of the sluggishly advancing American economy. Central bank chief Ben Bernanke said this week that the recovery from the nation's 2007 to 2009 recession, its worst economic downturn in seven decades, has been been "frustratingly slow" and is likely to advance by no more than 2.7 percent this year.
But the January jobs report -- and the unexpected drop in the jobless rate from December's 8.5 percent figure -- could boost the re-election prospects for U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat seeking a second four-year term in the national election next November. The two leading contenders seeking the Republican nomination to oppose him -- one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- have regularly unleashed verbal assaults on the president's handling of the economy, calling for less government regulation of American corporations as a way to boost the country's economic fortunes.