The loss of public-sector jobs slowed in December as the national unemployment rate declined to 8.5 percent, according to statistics released Friday by the federal government. Approximately 12,000 public-sector jobs were lost in December. That represents an improvement from November and October, when roughly 20,000 and 22,000 government jobs were lost, respectively. Overall, the public sector lost about 280,000 jobs in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

December’s unemployment rate represents the lowest rate in nearly three years, according to the Los Angeles Times, and was fueled in part by the private sector adding 222,000 jobs. The unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in November. 

Although the unemployment numbers have improved, they are still “unacceptable” and point out the need for federal action, said the National League of Cities (NLC). “The continued high unemployment rate means that millions of Americans continue to be out of work, small businesses are fighting to stay open and too many families will start the New Year struggling to make ends meet,” said Ted Ellis, mayor of Bluffton, Ind., and president of the NLC, in a statement. “As the national leadership of the National League of Cities meets this morning, cities and towns across the country strongly urge Congress and the Administration to put aside partisan differences and take action, such as investing in infrastructure, which will strengthen local economies. Our nation can no longer wait. We need investments that will put Americans back to work and position our country for continued growth and economic competitiveness.”

For more on recent public sector job numbers, view page 8 of this PDF.