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Economy adds few jobs

Unemployment rate drops, but analysts remain skeptical

WASHINGTON – U.S. employers added a paltry 36,000 jobs in January, partly because of bad weather and partly because many employers remain reluctant to hire despite a strengthening economic recovery.

Even so, the nation’s unemployment rate fell dramatically for the second month in a row, the government said Friday. It dropped to 9 percent in January, the lowest since April 2009. In December, the jobless figure was 9.4 percent, and it was 9.8 percent in November.

Some analysts attributed the unusually large rate drop more to a statistical fluke than substantive gains in hiring.

“I’m impressed to see the unemployment rate go down to 9, but I just don’t think it’s real and will stay there,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Apart from manufacturing, which added a hefty 49,000 jobs in January, the Labor Department’s payroll survey showed broadly disappointing results.

Construction and transportation payrolls fell sharply, and the recent employment growth in the hotel and leisure industry came to a halt. Government officials said bad weather may have caused more than the usual disruptions in job-seeking and hiring for a January.

Even so, other major business groupings also performed poorly. Government employment continued to shed jobs, and even the rapidly growing temporary-help sector took a breather in January.

Many economists were projecting overall job growth of about 150,000 for last month – a continuation of improving trends seen in hiring since last fall.

Newly revised figures Friday showed the economy added about 900,000 jobs for all of last year – with the pace picking up in the fourth quarter to about 128,000 a month.

Revised data released Friday show the economy lost 8.7 million jobs in 2008 and 2009 – even more than the 8.4 million previously estimated. As of January, that leaves the nation’s job hole at about 7.7 million.