The jobless rate held steady at 7.8% as November's unemployment figure was revised up from the initial estimate of 7.7%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.
The good news in the report is that worries about the so-called fiscal cliff of tax hikes and budget cuts didn't derail hiring last month, as some had feared it could. Healthcare hiring was very strong, manufacturing bounced back and construction added a solid batch of jobs, although part of that was likely due to recovery efforts from Superstorm Sandy that struck the Northeast in late October.
On the other hand, some analysts were hoping for stronger overall job growth last month, closer to 200,000, as there were some indications earlier this week that hiring in the private sector might have accelerated. But the retail sector cut back its staffing, as did the information industry. Government employers, mostly local schools, shed 13,000 from its payrolls. Temporary-help employment was flat.
The nation's unemployment rate of 7.8%, also matched in September, is the lowest since January 2009. Unlike November, last month workers didn't exit the job market. The labor force actually grew. More reported having jobs, but the ranks of the unemployed also increased, to 12.2 million last month.
Almost 40% of the unemployed said they had been without jobs for six months or longer -- a statistic that has shown little improvement over the years, which is particularly worrisome as more of these workers will find it increasingly difficult to find work as their skills atrophy and they become discouraged.
Analysts were expecting job growth of about 150,000 in December, which is about what the economy has been generating on average for the last two years. Although that is a decent pace, certainly enough to absorb new entrants into the labor force, it's not strong enough to bring down unemployment quickly and create opportunities for the large number of jobless workers.
As of December, the nation had about 134 million payroll jobs -- still 4 million fewer than at the end of 2007 when the economy began its descent into recession.
Looking ahead, economists aren't expecting any pickup in hiring in the near term. In fact, job growth could slide back a bit, analysts say, until policymakers resolve the thorny issues of raising the debt ceiling and budget deficit problems. Lawmakers averted most of the "fiscal cliff" earlier in the week, but they let payroll taxes rise to previous rates, which is expected to slow consumer spending a bit and could take a bite out of hiring in the next few months.
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