Stronger than expected job gains in transportation and manufacturing helped reduce the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.5 percent in December, surprising analysts who expected a slight increase of jobless claims at year-end.
Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 200,000 in December, bringing down the unemployment rate from a revised 8.7 percent in November, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. That increase blew past consensus estimates forecasting 150,000 new jobs.
December’s payroll gains followed an increase of 120,000 jobs in November, which knocked the national unemployment rate down to its lowest level in more than two years. The number of unemployed persons fell to 13.1 million in December.
Employment in transportation and warehousing rose sharply in December, led by 42,000 new jobs in the courier and messenger industry, according to the BLS. Many of the 50,000 new transportation jobs may represent seasonal employment.
Transportation and warehousing employment rose 1.2 percent from November and 1.6 percent from a year ago to about 4.3 million workers across industries, a number that underestimates total transportation employment.
Retailers added 28,000 jobs in December, hiring heavily at general merchandise and clothing stores, while manufacturing employment expanded by 23,000 jobs.
Trucking employment edged up 0.4 percent in December from November and 3.2 percent year-over-year, according to seasonally adjusted BLS data. Rail employment was up 0.3 percent from November and 3.4 percent from a year ago.
Aviation employment in the U.S. was up 0.2 percent from November and 1.1 percent from December 2010, while employment in the U.S. maritime industry increased 1.1 percent sequentially and year-over-year, according to the BLS data.
The 8 percent sequential increase in employment at courier and messenger companies surveyed by the BLS tracked the holiday season hiring trends of previous years, but their job numbers actually dropped 1 percent from December 2010.