Hiring in the U.S. accelerated in December for a second month and the jobless rate fell to the lowest point in almost three years, signaling a strengthening labor market.

Revised data, disclosed by the Labor Department on Friday, show that hiring in October grew faster than initially reported, while hiring in November was revised down. 

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent in December, from 8.6 percent, the Labor Department said. From April through October, the rate held in a narrow range from 9.0 to 9.2 percent. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters called for 8.7 percent.

The number of unemployed persons, at 13.1 million, was down by 54,000 in December

Employers added 200,000 people to their payrolls, beating economists' estimate of an increase of 150,000. Over the past 12 months, nonfarm payroll employment has risen by 1.6 million.

Employment in the private sector rose by 212,000 in December and by 1.9 million over the year. Government employment changed little over the month but fell by 280,000 over the year.

The October result was revised from 100,000 to a final version of 112,000, and November's was revised down from an initially reported 120,000 to 100,000.

The private sector added 212,000 jobs after a revised gain of 120,000, as employment rose sharply in transportation and warehousing, adding 50,000 jobs. Almost all of the gain occurred in the couriers and messengers industry, and seasonal hiring was particularly strong in December.

Retail trade continued to add jobs in December, with a gain of 28,000. Employment in the industry has increased by 240,000 over the past 12 months.

Manufacturing employment expanded by 23,000, following four months of little change. Employment increased in December in transportation equipment, fabricated metals and machinery.

Mining employment rose by 7,000 over the month. Over the year, mining added 89,000 jobs.

Health care added 23,000 jobs in December. Over the year, health care employment rose by 315,000.

The labor force participation rate remained unchanged for the month at 64 percent.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose in December by 4 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $23.24. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 2.1 percent.

The dollar index, a measure of the greenback's performance against a basket of six major currencies, traded at 81.071, from 80.930 before the data and 80.925 late Thursday. Yields on benchmark 10-year note, which move inversely to prices, ticked up 3 basis points to 2.03 percent.