WASHINGTON - The nation's unemployment rate dropped to 5.7 percent in December, but labor markets were cold at the outset of winter as companies added only 1,000 new jobs in an anemic holiday-hiring performance. Related Quotes DJIA NASDAQ ^SPC 10592.44 2100.25 1131.92 0.00 0.00 0.00 delayed 20 mins - disclaimer Quote Data provided by Reuters The 0.2 percentage point drop nevertheless brought the overall, seasonally adjusted civilian jobless rate to its lowest level in more than a year, the Labor Department (news - web sites) said Friday. But the decrease was attributable mostly to the fact that fewer people were looking for work, it said. More than 300,000 people gave up their search for jobs and dropped out of the pool of available workers, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A separate survey of business payrolls showed that employers added only 1,000 positions in December, although economic analysts were expecting over 100,000 new jobs. Weak holiday hiring by retailers was to blame for holding back job gains. Employment in the nation's stores, malls and even gas stations dropped by 38,000 last month, the report said, and manufacturing continued a 41-month slide by losing 26,000 jobs. For sustained job growth, economists are looking for monthly payroll gains of 200,000 to 300,000 — a mark the economy is far from reaching. December marked the fifth consecutive month of payroll gains, however slight. Other areas of the economy are surging, while the jobs market has been a weak link in the recovery. To remain competitive in the global economy and out of concern that economic improvements wouldn't last, companies have been hesitant to take on added costs of hiring new full-time workers. Instead, they have been working their employees longer and harder. Hence, the productivity of American workers has been at high levels in recent months. The painfully slow employment growth has been making life difficult for job seekers. Since President Bush (news - web sites) took office, the economy has lost 2.3 million jobs, a statistic that Democrats hope to use against the Bush as he seeks re-election. The Bush administration contends that stronger economic growth — helped by the president's three tax cuts — will eventually lead to more meaningful job creation on a sustained basis.