The unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly in January to 9.7 percent from 10 percent while employers shed 20,000 jobs.
The Labor Department says the rate dropped because a survey of households found the number of employed Americans rose by 541,000.
The job losses are calculated from a separate survey of employers.
The report also included an annual revision to the estimates of total payrolls, which showed there were 930,000 fewer jobs last March than previously estimated. The department also revised down its estimates for April through October of last year, adding another 433,000 job losses.
November was revised up, however, to show a gain of 64,000 jobs.
All told, the department says the Great Recession has eliminated 8.4 million jobs. That's the most of any recession since World War II as a proportion of total payrolls.