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WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate is sinking at the fastest pace in half a century because a surprisingly large number of people say they’re finding work.
It conflicts with a business payroll survey last month that showed relatively weak job growth. But that survey doesn’t count the self-employed and likely undercounts the nation’s smallest businesses. Also, harsh weather disrupted business payrolls in January.
The unemployment rate dropped sharply last month to 9 percent, based on a government survey that found that more than a half-million people found work. A separate Labor Department survey of company payrolls showed 36,000 net jobs created — barely a quarter of the number needed to keep pace with population growth.
The government’s survey of households is used to calculate the unemployment rate. That measures the self-employed, farm workers and household employees. They are not included in the payroll survey. Many economists also say the household survey includes more people who work at small companies.
The number of people who called themselves self-employed rose by 165,000 to 9.7 million in January, the report said. That’s the highest total since last May.
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