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Unemployment falls to 8.5%, lowest in three years

Job applicants register at the 'Denver Hires Job Fair' on December 5, 2011 in Denver, Colo. The Labor Department announced today that the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.5 percent.

Steve Chiotakis: The nation's economy added 200,000 jobs in the month of December, while the jobless rate ticked down -- improved -- to 8.5 percent. The Labor Department is just out with the latest figures this morning.

And we're gonna get some analysis from Jill Schlesinger, editor-at-large over at CBS/MoneyWatch. She's with us live from New York as she is every Friday morning. Hey Jill.

Jill Schlesinger: Good morning.

Chiotakis: So it seems like another solid report -- let's get into some of the highlights. Which sectors grew and which ones
didn't have such a good month?

Schlesinger: You know, health care really does continue to be a standout, adding about 23,000 jobs in the month. But you know, over the course of the year, health care employment up by 315,000 jobs. I guess Americans also maybe are going out a little bit more, because food service is doing well in December, and added about 230,000 over the course of the year. So these are really good numbers.

But the special place in my heart: manufacturing, the much maligned manufacturing sector. Which my goodness, has really been pretty amazing -- on a tear since last February, adding about 325,000 jobs.

Chiotakis: Manufacturing -- I thought Americans weren't making things anymore, Jill?

Schlesinger: Yes, and that's why I say "the much maligned manufacturing sector." Look, it is true -- there are about 40 percent fewer manufacturing jobs than when we were at our peak in the late '70s. But you know, the European crisis has really made American manufacturing buoyant, in fact. And we've seen manufacturing lead the way out. I think that this is a really bright spot for the economy, and one that might be a good place for folks who don't necessarily have the huge skill set to enter into technology, say.

Chiotakis: Overall, Jill, is this what we need to see to keep the unemployment rate on the decline -- month after month of 200,000 plus?

Schlesinger: This is exactly what we need. I mean, we know that there need to be about 125,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with folks coming into the labor force. But you know, 200,000 -- that will put a dent into the unemployment rate. And frankly, let's look at where we were a year ago: 9.4 percent unemployment. So the trend is moving in the right direction. We don't like to see over 8 percent, but heck, I'll take this rather than what we saw previously -- that 10 percent number, which was pretty scary.

Chiotakis: And we're down a percent for the year. All right, Jill Schlesinger from CBS/MoneyWatch. Jill, thanks.

Schlesinger: Take care.

About the author

Jill Schlesinger is editor-at-large for CBS/MoneyWatch.

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