(CNSNews.com) - The economy added only 74,000 non-farm jobs in December, the fewest in three years. Yet the unemployment rate dropped 0.3 points to 6.7 percent -- the first time in 60 months it has dropped below 7 percent, the Labor Department announced on Friday.
With so few jobs added, the jobless rate still went down because people stopped looking for work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of unemployed persons declined by 490,000 to 10.4 million in December, indicating that many of them dropped out of the labor force.
The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively searching for work.
The BLS now says the economy added 241,000 (revised number) jobs in November, and 200,000 in October, compared with the paltry 74,000 last month. 74,000 is the lowest number of jobs added since the 69,000 in January 2011.
In 2013, job growth averaged 182,000 per month, about the same as in 2012, when it averaged 183,000 a month.
The last time the nation's jobless rate dropped below 7.0 percent was in November 2008, the month Barack Obama was elected president, when the unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent.
“Every American has a right to ask the question ‘Where are the jobs?’" House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.
"Today’s disappointing report shows, once again, that the president’s policies are failing too many Americans, many of whom have simply stopped looking for work. There are more families living in poverty today than there were before the president took office, and instead of making it easier to find a good-paying job, Washington has been more focused on making it less difficult to live without one."
Boehner repeated what he has said many times in the past -- that House Republicans have passed "dozens of pro-growth jobs bills that would help improve job training, expand energy and infrastructure development, promote education and innovation, and protect small businesses from Obamacare."
Boehner said the longer Senate Democrats stall on those bills, the longer Americans will have to wait to find new jobs.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said while the economy continues to recover, "we are clearly not out of the woods." He said "far too many Americans are still struggling to find jobs," and he noted that long-term unemployment remains a "persistent challenge."
Perez used the release of the December unemployment numbers to press for an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
"To give them the immediate relief they so badly need, the first order of business for Congress is to pass an extension of emergency unemployment benefits that expired on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million people."
But Perez also admitted, "The best way to help unemployed Americans is to create jobs and grow the economy at a faster clip," and he recommended President Obama's "middle class jobs agenda" as the best way to accomplish that. Obama's agenda includes immigration reform, spending on education and jobs training, infrastructure spending, and increasing the minimum wage.
The Associated Press noted that the slowdown in hiring could prompt the Federal Reserve to rethink its plans to slow its stimulus efforts. The Fed decided last month to reduce its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion. It could delay further reductions until it sees evidence that December's weak numbers were temporary.
-- The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged down an hour to 34.4 hours in December. The manufacturing workweek was unchanged at 41 hours, and factory overtime edged up by one hour to 3.5 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged down by one hour to 33.6 hours.
-- The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (involuntary part-time workers) was essentially unchanged at 7.8 million in December. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time work.
-- In December, 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.
-- Among the marginally attached, there were 917,000 discouraged workers in December, a reduction of 151,000 from a year earlier. Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.5 million persons marginally attached to the labor force in December had not searched for work for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities.