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The job market continues to improve, but in a slow and measured way. Specifically, the closing month of 2012 saw the nation add a total of 155,000 new positions--with the private sector creating 168,000 jobs and the government reducing payrolls by 13,000.

In all, the total result was a little less than the latest estimate of 160,000 jobs added, but slightly higher than the 150,000 forecast in place at the start of the week. At the same time, the unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey, came in at 7.8%, which was as expected, and matched the upwardly revised November tally of 7.8%. Initially, the November jobless rate had been estimated at 7.7%.

As for the payroll survey, the 155,000 jobs added last month was just slightly below the revised figure of 161,000 jobs gained the prior month. (The November tally had earlier been estimated at 146,000. Meantime, the October estimate was barely revised, just going from 138,000 to 137,000.) For the year as a whole, the average monthly increase was 153,000. So, little seems to be changing, notwithstanding hurricanes or feared fiscal cliffs. The latest jobs report seems indicative of the overall economic picture, which is characterized by slow and often steady growth. 

Importantly, these twin surveys were taken through the middle of December, well before the last-minute orchestration of the partial budget accord in Congress. The impact of those contentious negotiations seems to have been minimal on the overall picture, but what effect there was likely was negative. At the same time, rebuilding efforts from Hurricane Sandy may have added modestly to job creation last month.

Elsewhere, earnings rose last month by seven cents an hour to $23.73, while the average workweek increased by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours. That, too, was not a game changer.

Meanwhile, industries seeing nice employment increases last month included health care (up by 45,000 jobs), food services and drinking places (up by 38,000 jobs), and construction (which added 30,000 positions). The last area was, undoubtedly, helped by the aforementioned rebuilding efforts following the tragic storm that blanketed the East Coast in late October and whose aftermath is still being felt by too many residents in the worst affected areas.

All in all, this was a so-so report and does not change the overall outlook, which we see as continuing to exhibit slow, but steady, economic growth in the year ahead. Note also that within minutes, the Institute for Supply Management will be issuing its monthly survey on non-manufacturing activity.   

At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.