Economists say there is a long way to go, but they liked what they saw.
The rate fell to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009, two months after President Barack Obama took office. Unemployment passed 9 percent that spring and had stayed there or higher for all but two months since then.
The country added 120,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department said Friday. Private employers added 140,000 jobs, while governments cut 20,000.
The economy has generated 100,000 or more jobs five months in a row -- the first time that has happened since April 2006, well before the Great Recession.
"Something good is stirring in the U.S. economy," Ian Shepherdson, an economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note to clients.
The stock market rallied at the opening bell, after the report came out, but finished flat for the day. It was still up 787 points for the week. The only bigger point gain in a week was in October 2008, when stocks lurched higher and lower during the financial crisis.
The report showed that September and October were stronger months for the job market than first estimated. For four months in a row, the government has revised job growth figures higher for previous months.
September was revised up by 52,000 jobs, for a gain of 210,000. October was revised up by 20,000, for a gain of 100,000.
Unemployment peaked at 10.1 percent in October 2009, four months after the recession ended. It dipped to 8.9 percent last February and 8.8 percent last March but otherwise was at or above 9 percent.
The rate fell not just because people found jobs. About 300,000 people simply gave up looking for work, and were no longer counted as unemployed. People routinely enter and leave the work force, though 300,000 is more than usual.
Obama, who faces a re-election vote in less than a year and a presidential campaign that will turn on the economy, seized on the decline to argue for expanding a cut in the tax that workers pay toward Social Security.
The tax cut affects 160 million Americans. It lowers a worker's Social Security tax by up to $2,136 a year. Someone earning $50,000 a year saves $1,000 with the tax cut. It will expire Dec. 31 unless Congress acts.
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