Often cited as a key factor in the housing market’s recovery, the national unemployment rate continued to trend downward in December. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent as the economy added 200,000 jobs. The drop exceeded economists’ expectations and brought the percentage of jobless Americans to its lowest level in nearly three years. During 2011, 1.6 million nonfarm payroll jobs were added, while government employment dropped by 280,000 jobs. The national unemployment rate averaged 8.9 percent last year, falling from an average of 9.6 percent in 2010. More here and here.