The nation’s unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a percentage point to 8.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, marking the lowest unemployment rate since March 2009.

Overall payment employment rose by 120,000 in November. Private sector employers added 140,000 jobs, although state and local governments continued to shed tens of thousands of jobs.

Employment continued to trend up in retail trade, leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and health care, while government employment continued to trend down.

The number of unemployed people, at 13.3 million, declined 594,000 in November. The labor force, which is the sum of the unemployed and employed, was down by a little more than half that amount.

Despite the good news on the hiring front, federal emergency unemployment insurance benefits are due to expire at the end of the year, unless Congress takes action. The Senate also failed Thursday night to extend the payroll tax cut (see Senate Fails to Pass Payroll Tax Cut Extension).

“Today’s jobs report is both a welcome sign that our economy is headed in the right direction and a signal that there is much more work to be done,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. “It is imperative that Republicans work with Democrats to extend federal unemployment insurance programs and the payroll tax cut. Emergency unemployment insurance has helped millions of families stay afloat during these tough economic times and Republicans must not delay in endorsing a renewal of these vital programs.”

The House will now try to pass the payroll tax cut extension, but Republicans remain opposed to including a surtax on millionaires to pay for it.

"It is good news that we had positive job growth, but we must do more to strengthen our economy and provide the certainty and confidence employers need to hire even more workers,” Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Democrats in Washington continue to call for job-killing tax hikes. Not only would their latest surtax hit small businesses and investors—the very people we need paying more salaries, not more taxes—but it would also push their federal income tax rate close to 45 percent in 2013.  No American should have the federal government taking that much of what they earn—especially not on top of all of the other taxes people pay.”

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