The Labor Department on Friday reported that nonfarm payroll employment declined sharply in December, pushing the unemployment rate up 7.2% from 6.8% the previous month, the highest it has been since 1993.

Some 524,000 jobs were lost in December, 1.9 million during the last 4 months of 2008 and 2.6 million jobs for the year.

The number of unemployed persons increased by 632,000 to 11.1 million in December. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has grown by 3.6 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 2.3 percentage points.

"Job losses were large and widespread across most major industry sectors,"the Labor Department said in releasing the numbers.

Manufacturing jobs fell 149,000, the largest monthly decline since August 2001. Construction continued declining, losing another 101,000 jobs, bringing the total number of job losses in the category to 899,000 since peak employment in September 2006. The service sector shed 273,000 jobs.

The only categories to grow were health care and education, up by 32,000 and 13,000, respectively.