The new figures suggest the labour market is improving – even though employers unexpectedly shed 20,000 jobs in January.
One poll of analysts had forecast that the unemployment rate would edge up to 10.1 per cent for the month, from 10 per cent.
The US Labour Department figures followed a separate survey of US households which showed that those in employment had jumped by 541,000.
An increase in the number of people giving up looking for work also contributed to the falling jobless figures.
The department said that a total of 8.4m jobs had been lost since November 2007.
Recovery in the US is still precarious according to experts – but recent economic figures have shown a positive trend.
The world's largest economy grew 5.7 per cent between October and December.