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Despite their concerns about looming tax increases and government spending cuts, U.S. employers added 155,000 jobs in December, about apace with job growth over the last year, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The biggest gains were in health care, food services, construction and manufacturing, and the government sector showed modest job losses, the report said. The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, the same as in November, whose rate was revised up from 7.7 percent.
Over the course of 2012, the country added 1.8 million jobs, despite continued job losses in the government sector and anxiety related to the presidential election and scheduled tax increases and spending cuts.
Economists are unsure of what the rest of the year holds for the U.S. job market, but most are forecasting more of the same: hiring fast enough to stay just ahead of population growth, but still too slow to make a sizable dent in the 12.2-million-person backlog of unemployed workers.
A number of encouraging trends in the economy suggest that businesses have good reason to speed up hiring, including the housing recovery, looser credit for small businesses, a rebound in China and pent-up demand for new autos. Friday's report also showed slightly faster wage growth and longer working hours in December, both of which bode well for hiring.