The economy lost more jobs than expected in December while the unemployment rate held steady at 10 percent, as a sluggish economic recovery has yet to revive hiring among the nation's employers.
The Labor Department said Friday that employers cut 85,000 jobs last month, worse than the 8,000 drop analysts expected.
A sharp drop in the labor force, a sign more of the jobless are giving up on their search for work, kept the unemployment rate at the same rate as in November. Once people stop looking for jobs, they are no longer counted among the unemployed.
When discouraged workers and part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs are included, the so-called "underemployment" rate in December rose to 17.3 percent, from 17.2 percent in October. That's just below a revised figure of 17.4 percent in October, the highest on records dating from 1994.
Revisions to the previous two months' data showed the economy actually generated 4,000 jobs in November, the first gain in nearly two years. But the revisions showed it also lost 16,000 more jobs than previously estimated in October.
The report caps a disastrous year for U.S. workers. Employers cut 4.2 million jobs in 2009, and the unemployment rate averaged 9.3 percent. That's compared to an average of 5.8 percent in 2008 and 4.6 percent in 2007. The economy has lost more than 8 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.
Most economists worry that 2010 won't be much better. Federal Reserve officials, in a meeting last month, anticipated that unemployment will decline "only gradually," according to minutes of the meeting released earlier this week. The Fed and most private economists expect the unemployment rate will remain above 9 percent through the end of this year.