*(Via The AP) – The unemployment rate fell last month to its lowest level in more than two and a half years, as employers stepped up hiring in response to the slowly improving economy.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 120,000 last month. Private companies grew by a combined 140,000 jobs, while the public sector — federal, state and local governments — shrank by 20,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, fell to 8.6% from 9% in October. The rate is now lower than at any point since March 2009, when it was 8.6% as well.

October’s payrolls figure was revised upward to show a gain of 100,000 from a previously reported 80,000, while September was revised up to a 210,000 gain from 158,000.

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