The U.S. unemployment rate dropped further in December as employers added a healthy batch of new jobs, closing out a tumultuous year with some hopeful signs for the long wobbly economy and sluggish labor market.

The Labor Department said Friday that the jobless rate edged down to 8.5% in December from a revised 8.7% in November. The unemployment rate has fallen steadily since August, when the rate was 9.1%, based on the revisions.

Last month, the economy produced 200,000 new net jobs. That’s an acceleration from 100,000 jobs added in November and an average growth of 137,000 jobs a month for all of 2011. While a good chunk of last month’s new hires were seasonally related, in warehousing and retail, manufacturing and healthcare employers also reported solid job gains.

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