WASHINGTON — In the most impressive surge for the job market since the middle of last decade, the United States added 243,000 jobs in January, far more than economists expected. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.
For African-Americans, the rate dropped 14 percent, from 15.8 percent in December to 13.6 percent in January. Unemployment for Black men dropped to 12.7 percent from 15.7 percent. The unemployment rate for Black women saw a drop from 13.9 to 12.6.
Hiring accelerated across the economy and up and down the pay scale. The high-salary professional services industry added 70,000 jobs, the most in 10 months. Manufacturing added 50,000, the most in a year.
The report Friday from the Labor Department sent money pouring into the stock market and out of more conservative investments in bonds. Dow Jones industrial average futures, virtually flat before the report was released at 8:30 a.m. EST, jumped 100 points.
The stock market is already off to its fastest start in 15 years as more investors start to believe the economic recovery is finally for real and will only get stronger. The Dow has gained 4 percent in 2012.
It was the most jobs added since and April and May 2010, when 277,000 and 458,000 jobs were created. But those months were skewed by massive hiring for the census. Before that, the last month with more job creation was March 2006.
The unemployment rate was down two ticks from last month and the lowest since an 8.3 percent reading in February 2009. It was also the fifth consecutive month that the rate has fallen, the first time that has happened since late 1994.
The report seemed certain to shake up the presidential campaign, which is expected to turn on the economy. Unemployment was 7.8 percent when President Barack Obama took office in and 10 percent, its peak for the economic downturn, nine months later.
Employers have added an average of 201,000 jobs a month in the past three months. That's 50,000 more jobs per month than the economy averaged in each month last year.
The Labor Department's January jobs report was filled with other encouraging data and revisions. The economy added 200,000 more jobs in 2011 than first thought.
The unemployment rate is nearly a percentage point lower than over the summer, when many feared a recession was imminent.
Impressively, the job gains last month were spread across the economy. Even the beleaguered construction sector added 21,000 jobs, its second month of strong gains. That figure has probably been helped by unseasonably warm weather this winter.