The Colorado Springs area job market generated another helping of good news in January, when the area unemployment rate fell for a sixth consecutive month to nearly a four-year low, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The 8.7 percent rate is the lowest since March 2009 and is down from 9 percent in December and 8.9 percent in January 2012. The 0.3-percentage point drop matched September's decline as the largest month-to-month drop in more than 13 years.

The improvement came as more than 3,600 area residents returned to the job market, the biggest monthly increase in the labor force in more than 12 years. The number holding jobs surged by nearly 4,300, cutting the number of residents looking for work by nearly 700.

The latest unemployment stats came in the same week that the agency reported local payrolls surged to the highest level since the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis; the percentage growth in the area's payrolls was the most in 6 1/2 years.

The agency this week also released revisions to payroll data that showed the area added jobs last year instead of losing them; the revisions were part of an annual process in which it replaces estimates generated from surveys of a small group of employers with data from unemployment insurance reports submitted by most employers. The unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households.

Colorado Springs still has a long way to go to recover from the last recession – the local jobless rate remains more than double the rate it was before the recession and the area has recovered just a little more than half of the jobs lost during the downturn.

Jobless rates declined in January by similar amounts in all seven of the state's metropolitan areas and were down in 227 of the nation's metro areas. Boulder reported the state's lowest unemployment rate at 5.6 percent, while Pueblo had the highest rate at 10.4 percent. Colorado's jobless rate fell in January to nearly a four-year low of 7.3 percent from 7.5 percent in December, while the nation's unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in January from 7.8 percent in December.

The bureau will release February unemployment data for metro areas on April 10.