The numbers: The U.S. created a lackluster 199,000 new jobs in December, signaling that persistent labor shortages and another major coronavirus outbreak are holding back the economy.

The increase in employment was well below Wall Street’s expectations. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast 422,000 new jobs.

The U.S. jobless rate, meanwhile, slipped to 3.9% from 4.2% and drifted to a new pandemic low. The rate stood at 3.5% right before the pandemic.

The reason for the sharp decline: A separate survey of households from which the rate is derived actually showed a much bigger increase in employment for the second month in a row.

The U.S. economy has millions of open jobs. Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The household survey showed that 651,000 people found

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