Employers stepped up hiring last month, boosting payrolls by a brisk 167,000 and keeping the unemployment rate steady at a still historically low 4.5 percent. Workers' wages grew briskly.
The latest snapshot of the nation's employment climate, released Friday by the Labor Department, showed that the jobs market ended 2006 on a strong note and provided fresh evidence that the troubled housing and automotive sectors aren't dragging down employment across the country.
The tally of new jobs added to the economy last month exceeded analysts' forecasts for a gain of around 115,000 and was the best showing since September. Analysts were predicting the politically sensitive jobless rate would remain unchanged from November, which it did.
Some observers had predicted an even lower number in part because on Wednesday, Automatic Data Processing (nyse: ADP - news - people ) forecast a decline of 40,000 jobs (see "U.S. Jobs Could See Decline").