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The national unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in December from 4.2% in November, however hiring fell short of what economists had expected.

The U.S. economy added 199,000 new jobs in December, which is below the average monthly job growth of 537,000 in 2021, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday.

Employment continued to trend up in leisure and hospitality (+55,000), in professional and business services (+43,000), in manufacturing (+26,000), in construction (+22,000), and in transportation and warehousing (+19,000).  However, employment in all these sectors, except warehousing, is still lower than before the pandemic began.

The leisure and hospitality industry, for example, has added 2.1 million jobs during 2021 but overall employment in this sector is still down by 1.2 million, or 7.2%, compared to February 2020 before the pandemic began.

The labor force participation rate in December was unchanged at 61.9 % but remains 1.5 percentage points lower than in February 2020.

The national unemployment rate in February 2020 was 3.5%, compared to 3.9% today. In New Jersey, the state unemployment rate is currently at 6.6%, compared to 3.8% in February of 2020.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data used in the December jobs report is based on are conducted around the middle of the month, it likely does not reflect the full impact of the recent surge in COVID infections from the omicron variant.