Labor Dept.: More jobs, more jobless

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added 157,000 jobs in January, and hiring was much stronger at the end of 2012 than previously thought, providing reassurance that the job market held steady even as economic growth stalled.

The Labor Department report today showed a jump in hiring in the final two months of last year, just when the economy was sputtering and facing the threat of deep government spending cuts and tax increases from the fiscal cliff. The department revised up the estimated job gains for November from 161,000 to 247,000 and for December from 155,000 to 196,000.

The mostly encouraging jobs report included one negative sign: The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December. The rate is calculated from a survey of households, and more people in that survey said they were unemployed.

The monthly job gains are derived from a separate survey of employers.

The hiring picture over the past two years also looked stronger after the department’s annual revisions. The revisions showed that employers added an average of roughly 180,000 jobs a month in 2012 and 2011. That was up from previous estimates of about 150,000.

“The significantly stronger payroll gains tell us the economy has a lot more momentum than what we had thought,” Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, said in a research note.

Other economic news today contributed to the stock rally. Manufacturing expanded at a much faster pace in January compared with December, a private survey found. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all reported double-digit sales gains for January. And construction spending rose in December at a healthy pace.

Construction companies added 28,000 jobs in January. Retailers added 33,000 positions. Health care gained 23,000 jobs. Manufacturers reported a small increase of 4,000. Restaurants and hotels added 17,000.

The solid hiring in retail, construction, restaurants and hotels suggested that such companies expect consumer spending to hold up in coming months.

“The strong and steady job gains from retail trade and construction look a lot more like a normal economic expansion,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West. “This is a sign that consumer spending is playing a far more important role in this expansion than it has so far.”

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