U.S. employment grew solidly last month and the jobless rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent, offering the strongest evidence yet of an acceleration in economic activity.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 200,000 last month, the Labor Department said on Friday, the most in three months and way above economists’ expectations for a 150,000 gain.

The economy needs to sustain the current pace of job creation to signal a robust recovery is finally under way.

The unemployment rate dropped from a revised 8.7 percent in November, which was previously reported as 8.6 percent. The jobless rate is now the lowest since February 2009.

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