The rate for November had been revised to 8.7 percent and October's rate was 9.1 percent.
The highest unemployment rate in 2011 was 9.2 percent in June.
The Labor Department said 200,000 jobs were added to the economy in December, which matches the job gains for both October and November, when 80,000, then 120,000 jobs were created.
"Altogether, more private sector jobs were created in 2011 than any year since 2005," President Obama said. "[There] are a lot of people that are still hurting out there. After losing more than 8 million jobs in the recession, obviously we have a lot more work to do."
But, he said, 3.2 million new private sector jobs have been added in the last 22 months, Obama said.
"So after shedding jobs for more than a decade, our manufacturing sector is also adding jobs two years in a row now," he said. "So we're making progress. We're moving in the right direction."
The unemployment rate is down 0.6 percentage points from August, with the rate dropping to 8 percent for adult males and 7.9 percent for adult women. Among blacks, the unemployment rate is 15.8 percent. Among Hispanics and Asians, it is 11 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively.
"Today's report holds promise, but the dual realities of deeply entrenched long-term unemployment and job creation still heavily concentrated in lower-wage sectors like retail and food services threaten our ability to achieve the kind of economy we need," Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.
Of the country's 13.1 million unemployed, NELP said, 42.5 percent have been out of work six months or longer.
The Labor Department said the retail sector added 28,000 jobs in December and 120,000 in the past 12 months. Manufacturing gained 23,000 jobs while mining gained 7,000. Healthcare, which has added 315,000 jobs in the past year, added 23,000 jobs in December.
Hourly earnings rose by 4 cents or 0.2 percent to $23.24 per hour. Wages in 2011 rose 2.1 percent.