WASHINGTON - (AP) - The U.S. unemployment rate dropped sharplylast month to 9 percent, the lowest level in nearly two years. Butthe economy generated only 36,000 net new jobs, the fewest in fourmonths.

The January report illustrates how job growth remains theeconomy's weakest spot, even as other economic indicators point toa recovery that is strengthening..

Friday's report offered a conflicting picture on hiring.Unemployment fell because the Labor Department's household surveydetermined that more than a half-million people without jobs foundwork. The department conducts a separate survey of businesses,which showed tepid job creation. The two surveys sometimes diverge.

Severe winter weather likely reduced the number of jobs created.Harsh snowstorms last month cut into construction employment, whichfell by 32,000, the most since May.

In one bright spot, manufacturing added 49,000 jobs, the mostsince August 1998.