NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks are mixed in early trading after the government reported that the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in almost two years.
The rate dropped to 9.4 percent last month. That was because more people found jobs, but also because some people gave up on their job searches.
The Labor Department says employers added 103,000 jobs in December, an improvement from November's revised total of 71,000 but far below most analysts' expectations.
Once unemployed workers stop looking for work, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.
Through all of 2010, the nation added 1.1 million jobs, or an average of 94,000 jobs a month. To see how the job movement rose and fell over 2010 click here.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke tells Congress there's increasing evidence that a "self-sustaining" economic recovery is taking hold, but he says the Fed's $600 billion Treasury bond-buying program is still needed because it will take years for unemployment to drop to more normal levels.
In prepared testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Friday, Bernanke offered a more optimistic outlook, saying the economy should grow more strongly this year as consumers and businesses boost their spending. However, he said that it could take four to five years for unemployment, to drop to a historically normal rate of around 6 percent.
The bond purchases are designed to bolster the economy by lowering interest rates and lifting stock prices.