WASHINGTON (AP) — The unemployment rate fell for the fifth straight month after a surge of January hiring, a promising shift in the nation’s outlook for job growth.

The Labor Department says employers added 243,000 jobs in January, the most in nine months. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent from 8.5 percent in December. That’s the lowest in nearly three years.

African-American unemployment fell significantly for the first time in three months, going from 15.8 to 13.6 percent. Black teen joblessness also went down from 42.1 to 38.5 percent.

Employers have added an average of 201,000 jobs per month in the past three months. That’s 50,000 more jobs per month than the economy averaged in each month last year.

The January jobs report was filled with other encouraging data and revisions. Hiring was widespread across many high-paying industries. Pay increased. And the economy added 200,000 more jobs in 2011 than first thought.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.