Our nation’s strengthening labor market posted broad-based growth in the month of December. Nonfarm payroll employment added 200,000 jobs, exceeding expectations, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, its lowest level in nearly three years.
Month by month, industry by industry, and state by state, America’s labor market grew stronger in 2011. We’re now seeing sustained job growth across almost every industry. We created nearly 2 million private sector jobs in 2011, and the unemployment rate fell in 45 states and the District of Columbia last year. Additionally, the number of mass layoffs continued to decline, with 14 of 19 industries reporting a decrease in layoffs over the year.
In December, job creation in the transportation industry rose sharply, and we saw significant employment gains in retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and leisure and hospitality. Initial Unemployment Insurance claims have been well below 400,000 for the past month, the first time this has happened since June 2008.
We’ve now created more than 3.2 million jobs over 22 consecutive months of private sector growth. But our hard-won progress cannot be compromised. Congress wisely extended Unemployment Insurance benefits and the payroll tax cut for two months, but if we’re going to see our economy reach a self-sustaining path to durable and long-term economic growth, Congress will need to extend both programs for at least a full year.
The American public has spoken loud and clear that it rejects the political gamesmanship that has created uncertainty for businesses around the country. Congress should do the right thing and extend middle class tax relief and Unemployment Insurance benefits through 2012 to keep our economy on the path to full recovery.