WASHINGTON (AP) -- The outlook for jobs became a bit less bleak with January's unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, which fell to 9.7 percent from 10 percent as more people said they had jobs.
Still, Friday's unemployment report showed just how deep the job crisis remains. The government now estimates 8.4 million jobs vanished in the Great Recession, and economists think the nation would be lucky to get back 1.5 million of them this year. And they say it will take at least three to four years for the job market to return to anything like normal.
A Labor Department survey of households found that 541,000 more Americans had jobs last month. But most of those gains were attributed to seasonal adjustments to the data. Without those adjustments, which account for reduced hiring during winter, the data show fewer people had jobs last month.
The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since August, primarily because a department survey of households found a sharp increase in the number of Americans with jobs. Analysts expected an increase to 10.1 percent.
A separate survey of businesses found that employers shed 20,000 jobs last month.
January's report offers hope that employers may start adding jobs soon. Excluding the beleaguered construction industry, the private sector as a whole added 63,000 positions.