U.S. employment increased less than expected in December amid worker shortages and job gains could remain moderate in the near term as spiraling COVID-19 infections disrupt economic activity.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 199,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said in its closely watched employment report on Friday. Data for November was revised up to show payrolls advancing by 249,000 jobs instead of the previously reported 210,000. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% from 4.2% in November, underscoring tightening labor market conditions.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls rising by 400,000 and the unemployment rate dipping to 4.1%. Payrolls estimates ranged from as low as 150,000 to as high as 1.1 million jobs. The government revised household survey data, which provides the jobless rate, for the last five years.


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