December 2011 Unemployment Rates
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics Program

The United States Department of Labor released the December 2011 Employment Situation report on Friday, presenting a broad-based growth in the labor market in December.

According to the report, non-farm payroll employment added 200,000 jobs, exceeding expectations. Additionally, the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent... the lowest in nearly three years. Almost 2 million private sector jobs were created in 2011, while the unemployment rate fell in 45 states, said the report.

In December, job creation in the transportation industry rose sharply, and we saw significant employment gains in retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and leisure and hospitality, said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in a statement, Initial Unemployment Insurance claims have been well below 400,000 for the past month, the first time this has happened since June 2008.

Solis said more than 3.2 million jobs had been created over 22 consecutive months of private sector growth. Although Congress wisely extended unemployment insurance benefits and the payroll tax cut for two months, to see the country's economy reach a self-sustaining path to durable and long-term economic growth, Congress will need to extend both programs for at least a full year, according to Solis.

Below are details of employment in major industries (Dec. 2010 - 2011) and monthly change in total private employment (Jan. 2008 - 2011):

The newly released numbers have sparked criticism from industry analysts.

According to Ted Ellis, the Mayor of Bluffton, Ind., and President of the National League of Cities, while the unemployment situation is showing signs of improvement, these numbers are still unacceptable.

Here is what Ellis said in a statement:

The continued high unemployment rate means that millions of Americans continue to be out of work, small businesses are fighting to stay open and too many families will start the New Year struggling to make ends meet.

As the national leadership of the National League of Cities meets this morning, cities and towns across the country strongly urge Congress and the Administration to put aside partisan differences and take action, such as investing in infrastructure, which will strengthen local economies. Our nation can no longer wait. We need investments that will put Americans back to work and position our country for continued growth and economic competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Paul T. Conway, the President of Generation Opportunity and a former Chief of Staff in the U.S. Department of Labor also didn't seem impressed. According to him, with many individuals needing to settle for less than satisfying employment opportunities and delaying major life decisions, the latest unemployment numbers offer little hope.

Young people need real full-time job opportunities - challenging and satisfying jobs that launch them into their careers, Conway said, Unfortunately, they are now being told that there is a new picture of success that should be sufficient to them - one marked by short-term fixes, internships, mentorships, and multiple part-time jobs.

December's 8.5 percent overall jobless rate fails to reflect the significant and ongoing challenges faced by young Americans. Hidden behind the numbers is the fact that many Americans have either accepted short-term, seasonal work or simply given up looking for work and are therefore not factored into the unemployment rate, he added.