The U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs in December--all in the private sector--and the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just announced. The numbers come on the heels of a disappointing November jobs report that yielded only 39,000 new jobs, around 100,000 fewer than anticipated (the December report revised November jobs up to 71,000). The unemployment rate is now at its lowest level since May 2009.

What should we make of the numbers?

  • Another Big Miss, states Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider. He says the new jobs "fell below the official estimates [of 150,000 to 170,000], and WELL below the whispers, which went as high as 300K. Stocks are dropping. Gold is perking back up."
  • Jobs Picture Improves Only Moderately, says Christine Hauser at The New York Times. Federal, state, and local governments are still slashing jobs--shedding 10,000 in December, she notes. And cash-strapped states and municipalities may engage in further cuts. Economists claim the jobs data is a lagging indicator and that positive trends in areas like manufacturing, consumer confidence, and capital spending point to economic recovery, Hauser continues. But she adds:

While the overall picture showed improving job growth, the additions in the private sector in December were not enough to significantly reduce the ranks of the unemployed or keep pace with people entering the work force. The outlook remains bleak for many workers. More than 14.5 million people were out of work in December.

  • We Still Have A Long Way To Go, explains Annalyn Censky at CNN Money: "There's still a long way to go to recover the 8.5 million jobs lost since the Great Recession began ... The labor market typically needs at least 300,000 to make a difference in the unemployment rate, economists say. Anything less than that is just barely enough to keep pace with population growth."
  • What Explains The Decline in Unemployment? asks Christopher Rugaber at The Associated Press. The drop "was mainly because people stopped looking for work," he explains, which removes them from the ranks of the unemployed according to the government.