Despite all the bumps along the way, the labor market ended the year on a positive note, with the jobless rate falling in December to its lowest level in almost three years. And it has quite a few areas of economic strength to thank for any progress.
All together, the private sector created 1.9 million jobs last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After months of struggle, the job market finished strong, adding 200,000 jobs in the final month, while almost simultaneously seeing jobless claims fall to their lowest four-week moving average since June 2008.
Health care, durable goods manufacturing and hospitality and food service are the basis of much of that growth. The healthcare industry saw an especially huge gain of 350,300 workers, helped in part by an unprecedented influx of young men into the industry. And with an aging baby boomer population and its proven attractiveness to those looking for work, the sector is only expected to continue to grow, with President Obama last month even calling for industry wage increases.
By and large it was lower-paying postions that saw the most job gains, like those found in the service sector, a truth that helped undo losses felt by groups hardest hit by the Great Recession. But any private-sector gains were countered by big losses in government positions, which accounted for roughly a third of all layoffs last year. Overall, the public sector cut 183,064 jobs last year.
Here are the industries that added the most jobs in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: