December jobs report article updated with analyst commentary, additional information.WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- The economy added fewer jobs than expected in December, even as the unemployment rate dropped more than expected, raising doubts on the speed of the recovery in the labor market. The Labor Department said in its Employment Situation Report early Friday that nonfarm payrolls rose by 103,000 in December, up from an upwardly revised 71,000 in the prior month. Economists expected payrolls to rise by 160,000 jobs, according to median consensus estimates available on Bloomberg. Estimates ranged from as low as 98,000 to as high as 225,000. Companies accelerated hiring in December, with the private sector payrolls increasing by 113,000 after growing more modestly in November. Consensus called for a private payroll addition of 180,000. The unemployment rate moved sharply lower to 9.4%, surprising the markets. That is the the lowest level since May 2009. Economists were expecting the rate to dip marginally to 9.7% from 9.8% in the previous month. The number of unemployed dropping by 556,000 to 14.5 million in December. There was also a withdrawal in the labor participation rate, which edged down to 64.3%.