unemployment and job gainsThe nation’s unemployment rate fell to 6.7% in December – but primarily because so many people dropped out of the workforce, according to numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The 6.7% number is the lowest since October 2008. However, the BLS reported that 347,000 people stopped looking for work. The federal government only counts those who are looking for work but unable to find a job as the “unemployed.”

The number of people who gave up looking for jobs out of frustration at not being able to find one stayed at 13.1%.

The number of jobs added to the economy was just 74,000 – far short of the about 200,000 jobs most economists expected to be added.

Under a headline “the unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent. Don’t celebrate,” Washington Post columnist Neil Irwin wrote that the numbers “in one instant made a lot of the progress the U.S. economy has been showing the last few months look more questionable.”

However, Irwin – author of a book on central bankers called “The Alchemists” – also wrote that other numbers show that the economy is beginning to hit an upswing. He pointed to improving manufacturing output, trade numbers and business investment.

Among the good news in the BLS report was the number of unemployed, which fell by 490,000 to about 10.4 million people.

The rate for adult men (6.3%) and whites (5.9%) actually fell, while the rate for Asians continued to fall, reaching 4.1% in December, a drop of 2.5% since the beginning of 2013. The rate for adult women (6%), teenagers (20.2%), blacks (11.9%) and Hispanics (8.3%) remained basically unchanged.

Also basically unchanged was the number of long term unemployed, which stands at 3.9 million people. The BLS defines the long term unemployed as those who have been without a job for 27 weeks or more.

On the plus side, the government revised numbers for November, saying the country added 38,000 more jobs than first counted, for a total of 241,000.

The cold weather might have had a slowing effect on the numbers. For example, construction firms cut 16,000 jobs, according to the BLS, because of projects delayed by bad winter weather.

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