A fourth straight month of solid hiring cut the U.S. unemployment rate in November to a five-year low of 7 percent. The surprisingly robust job gain suggested that the economy may have begun to accelerate.
Applications for US unemployment benefits dropped 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 358,000 last week, though the figure was distorted for the second straight week by California's efforts to clear backlogged claims.
U.S. employers added 162,000 jobs in July, a modest increase and the fewest since March. The gain was still enough to help lower the unemployment rate to a 4 1/2-year low of 7.4 percent, a hopeful sign in an otherwise lackluster report.
The national unemployment rate now stands at 7.6 percent, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports the official employment rate, which represents the percentage of adults who have a job, is holding steady at 58.6 percent.