December 2011, and the year as a whole, was a period of broad growth in the American labor market. With the national non-farm payroll adding about 200,000 jobs, the unemployment rate dipped to 8.5 percent; its lowest position in almost three years. The drop in unemployment was aided by the steady decline in mass layoffs, with 14 of the 19 major industries showing decreases in layoff figures from 2010.
Nearly every industry recorded sustained growth throughout the year, especially within the transportation, retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and leisure hospitality industries. Additionally, in December 2011, initial unemployment claims dropped below 400,000 claims for the first time in three and a half years. The private sector has seen exceptional growth with the creation of 3.2 million jobs over the past 22 months.
In support of this uptrend and in an attempt to maintain economic growth in the long-term, the United States Congress has extended unemployment insurance benefits and payroll tax cuts for at least two months, with considerations for extending it up to a year; a move vocally supported by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Over-the-year job growth, between December 2010 and December 2011, was demonstrated in all major industries, save government and information sectors. The largest increases were realized within the professional and business services and education and health services sectors reporting 452,000 and 427,000 new employees, respectively. Other strong performers were the manufacturing (+225,000 employees), retail trade (+240,000 employees), and leisure and hospitality (+268,000 employees) sectors. The construction (+46,000 employees), wholesale trade (+84,000 employees), transportation and warehousing (+67,000 employees), financial activities (+7,000 employees), and utilities (+5,000 employees) saw slight to moderate employment gains.