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In the most impressive surge for the job market since early last year, the United States added 243,000 jobs in January, far more than economists expected. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.

Lower unemployment is a positive a sign for President Barack Obama's re-election hopes. Still, he's likely to face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any post-war president.

"There are still far too many Americans who need a job … but the economy is growing stronger. The recovery is speeding up. And we need to do everything in our power to keep it going," Obama said Friday.

Hiring accelerated across the economy and up and down the pay scale. The high-salary professional services industry added 70,000 jobs, the most in 10 months. Manufacturing added 50,000, the most in a year.

"This is a very positive employment report from almost any angle," said Brian Bethune, an economics professor at Amherst College.

The report seemed certain to shake up the presidential campaign, which is expected to turn on the economy. The unemployment rate is the lowest since February 2009, one month after Obama took office.

The report Friday from the Labor Department sent money pouring into the stock market, already off to its best start in 15 years because of improving confidence in the economy, and out of more conservative investments in bonds.

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