U.S. Unemployment Falls To 7 Percent On 203,000 Jobs Added

The Associated Press

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A fourth straight month of solid hiring cut the U.S. unemployment rate in November to a five-year low of 7 percent. The surprisingly robust job gain suggested that the economy may have begun to accelerate.

It also fueled speculation that the Federal Reserve will scale back its economic stimulus when it meets later this month.

Employers added 203,000 jobs last month after adding 200,000 in October, the Labor Department said Friday. November's job gain helped lower the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent in October.

The economy has now generated a four-month average of 204,000 jobs from August through November. That's up from 159,000 a month from April through July.

Evidence of a stronger job market cheered stock investors. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 112 points in mid-morning trading.

The strong report "gives the Fed all the evidence it needs to begin tapering its asset purchases at the next ... meeting," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

The unemployment rate has fallen nearly a full percentage point since the Fed began buying bonds in Sept. 2012 and hit 7 percent earlier than most analysts expected.

In June, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed would end its purchases when the rate had reached 7 percent. Bernanke later backed away from that specific target in September, saying many measures will go into the decision.

Many economists still think the Fed won't begin to cut back until its January meeting or later.

In addition to the total job growth and unemployment decline, the November employment report included some other encouraging signs:

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