U.S. employers added a scant 74,000 jobs in December, the fewest in three years. The disappointing figure ended 2013 on a weak note and raises questions about whether the job market can sustain its recent gains.
Economists cautioned that cold weather likely played a role in the sharp slowdown in hiring. Job gains had averaged 214,000 in the previous four months.
The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent, its lowest level since October 2008. But the drop occurred mostly because many Americans stopped looking for jobs. Once people without jobs stop looking for one, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.
The proportion of people either working or looking for work fell to 62.8 percent, matching a nearly 36-year low. Last month’s expiration of extended unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans could accelerate that trend if many of them stop looking for work. They had been required to look for work in order to receive benefits.
The stock market fell in early trading. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 46 points to 16,398 . And the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.88 percent from 2.97 late Thursday.