The US logged yet another month of mediocre job growth in November. The labour department said on Friday that the nation's employers added 120,000 jobs last month, after adding 100,000 jobs in October.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.6% after having been mired around 9% for most of 2011.
"The unemployment rate has been stuck in the mud all year," said Andrew Tilton, a senior economist at Goldman Sachs.
November's jobless rate was the lowest recorded since March 2009. The rate fell partly because more workers got jobs, but also because about 315,000 workers dropped out of the labour force, and the jobless rate counts only people who are actively looking for work.
November's jobs report reinforced how much President Barack Obama needs additional stimulus, a tidy and fast resolution to the European debt crisis or some other economic miracle to reinvigorate the economy before 2012.
On the issue of government action to stimulate the economy, there has been some movement in Washington toward extending the payroll tax cut.
The other major stimulus program schedule to expire by 2012 is extended unemployment insurance benefits, which allows some jobless workers to continue receiving benefits for as long as 99 weeks. The average duration of unemployment has been near record highs this year, and so ending extended benefits is likely to affect a sizable chunk of the unemployed.
Unemployment benefits are believed to have one of the most stimulative effects on the economy, since recipients of these benefits are likely to spend all the money they receive quickly and pump more spending.