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Labor Department: U.S. Added 1.6 Million Jobs in 2011

The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in the month, the Labor Department reported Friday, closing out the year with 1.6 million jobs gained in 2011. Only 940,000 jobs were added the year before, CNNMoney reports.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent, its lowest level since February 2009. The national unemployment rate has fallen for four consecutive months.

According to the Labor Department, private businesses have been adding jobs consistently since March 2010. In December, private employers added 212,000 jobs. However, the public sector cut 12,000 jobs, bringing the net gain down to 200,000.

The employment gains were driven by the manufacturing, healthcare and education sectors, which each added more than 20,000 jobs. The hard-hit construction industry also rebounded, adding 17,000 jobs in December after recording reductions the prior two months.

Retail and food service jobs also increased, although analysts cautioned that those positions may be related to temporary holiday hiring.

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