The United States economy saw a marginal improvement in its job market conditions in December, as unemployment rates dropped by 0.4 percentage point to 9.4 per cent, the lowest it has been in 18 months, according to the monthly report of the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS).

The BLS report, which was released on Friday morning here, noted that 103,000 nonfarm jobs had been added to payrolls, with the increase in employment primarily occurring in the leisure and hospitality and the healthcare sectors. There was little change in other major industries, the BLS said.

The BLS survey results come closely on the heels of a similar report released earlier this week by a private company, Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP), which stunned economic forecasters with positive news indicating that private-sector jobs in the U.S. rose by 297,000 in December, far higher than the expected jobs-addition of 100,000.

In the wake of the ADP report, economists had on average expected the BLS report to confirm that 150,000 to 160,000 new jobs had been created. Instead, the BLS business survey said that the 113,000 private-sector jobs created had been offset by a loss of 10,000 government jobs, according to reports.

Experts also noted that the results showed that December was the first month in 17 during which the unemployment rate was lower than 9.5 per cent, which some analysts see that as “a fluke caused by seasonal hiring,” and others interpreting it as a “precursor of better months to come.”

In remarks following the BLS results’ announcement, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee said, “Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 113,000 in December, capping 12 consecutive months of growth that added 1.3 million private sector jobs to the economy during 2010, the strongest private sector job growth

since 2006.”

Striking a cautiously optimistic note he added that even though the unemployment rate fell sharply in December, it was still “unacceptably high” and the U.S. economy needed robust employment growth in order to recover from the deep job losses that began over two years ago.

“The overall trajectory of the economy has improved dramatically since then, but there will surely continue to be bumps in the road ahead,” he said.