The U.S. added 200,000 jobs in December, pushing the unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent from 8.6 percent. That exceeded economists' expectations, which the Associated Press reported in a preview story: "Economists forecast that employers added a net 150,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by Factset. They also predict that the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.7 percent from 8.6 percent, which was the lowest rate since March 2009." Despite the slight increase in the unemployment rate, the numbers represent strong growth for the economy, the AP reported. "The projected hiring gains would mark a six-month stretch in which the economy generated 100,000 jobs or more in each month. The last time that happened was in April 2006 — more than a year and a half before the country plunged into the Great Recession." After repeated weekly reports showing fewer people applying for unemployment benefits, the new monthly numbers show good progress for a recovery that's been too sluggish for too long.