According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was a significant drop in the unemployment rate, from 9.4% to 9.0%, in January while payrolls increased by a meager 34,000.
The two figures sometimes give conflicting indications because they are drawn from different data: the unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households, while the payroll number comes from a survey of firms.
The interpretation is further complicated this month by several other factors, including a revised estimate of the population, and the possible impact of unusually severe January weather. Calculated Risk, the Times' David Leonhardt, the Economist's Greg Ip, John Hilsenrath of the WSJ, and Real Time Economics' round-up of assorted pundits provide some guidance in sorting out the numbers.
Overall, it looks like the news is consistent with a picture of a recovery gaining momentum, but with a long way to go. Hopefully the February report, which is due on March 4, will give a clearer picture.