American employers substantially stepped up their hiring in January, bringing the unemployment rate down for the fifth month in a row.
Employers added 243,000 jobs in January, the Labor Department reported Friday, marking a pick-up in hiring from December, when the economy added 203,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%. That is the lowest since February 2009.
Hiring was much stronger than expected, and once it was apparent the job gains were broad based across several sectors, economists and investors called it a "nice surprise," "fantastic," and even "a touchdown!" Stocks climbed at the market open.
Economists surveyed by CNNMoney had forecast 130,000 jobs added in the month, and that the unemployment rate likely ticked up to 8.6%.
"To show the economy adding this kind of jobs number in a January is amazing," said Kathy Kane, senior vice president of talent management at Adecco Group North America. "As we talk to clients, they're very optimistic about continuing to hold jobs throughout the year but also to increase jobs."
"This is an optimistic jobs report, especially in light of very poor jobs reports for almost three years," said Brian Hamilton, CEO of Sageworks, a financial information company. "We don't know if the positive jobs trend will continue, but it is definitely a good trend."
The encouraging news was coupled with revisions to the Labor Department's data, showing the economy added 180,000 more jobs than originally thought in 2011.
Private businesses have been adding jobs consistently since March 2010. In January, they added 257,000 jobs.