WASHINGTON — The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 5.8% in December, its lowest since July, 1979, the Labor Department said today, as the economy created 3 million new jobs last year.
Employers appeared to be undaunted by a 25% decline in stock values since October, continuing to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers each month.
About 235,000 Americans found work in December, raising total employment to 115.5 million and dropping the jobless rate 0.1 percentage point from November, the department said in a report based on its monthly survey of households across the nation.
The number of unemployed people dropped by 112,000 to 6,978,000.
'Discouraged' Category Falls
Meanwhile, the number of so-called discouraged workers--those who have given up the search for a job in the belief they could not find one--fell by 72,000 to 910,000 in the fourth quarter of 1987. Those workers are not counted in the unemployment rate.
The total of discouraged workers is 20%--or 200,000--below the figure of a year earlier and is at its lowest since the last quarter of 1979.
The department said, however, that women and blacks continue to make up a disproportionately large share of discouraged workers.
"Although overall joblessness improved, we must still be concerned about the several types of problems that persist," said Janet L. Norwood, the commissioner of labor statistics. "The number working part time even though they preferred full-time work remains at more than 5 million and minority youths continue to have difficulty in finding jobs."
325,000 New Jobs
The bureau said that a separate survey of business payrolls showed an increase of 325,000 new jobs in December. About 40,000 were in manufacturing and a like number were in health services.
"Since last December, the nation's factory payrolls have risen by more than 400,000 jobs, mostly in just the last six months," Norwood told the congressional Joint Economic Committee.
The increases in manufacturing employment have come in all industries except for autos, where the total number of jobs remains about 60,000 below what it had been in early 1986.
Construction employment, after seasonal adjustments, rose by 55,000 in its third straight monthly gain.
Business Services Up
Business services added 35,000 workers and wholesalers increased their work force by 20,000, mostly in the durable goods sector.
In contrast, retail-trade employment was flat for the second month in a row with general merchandise stores showing a seasonally adjusted drop of 35,000 workers from October to December.