By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
AP Economics Write
WASHINGTON - U.S. employers added a scant 74,000 jobs in December, the fewest in three years. The disappointing gain ends 2013 on a weak note after recent economic reports had raised hopes for a strong finish.
The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent, the lowest level since October 2008. But the drop occurred partly because more Americans stopped looking for jobs. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively searching for work.
Cold weather may have slowed hiring. Construction firms cut 16,000 jobs, the biggest drop in 20 months.
December's hiring is far below the average gain of 214,000 jobs a month in the preceding four months. But monthly gains averaged 182,000 last year, nearly matching the previous two years.