WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US jobless rate held at 7.8 per cent in December, roughly unchanged in four months, as jobs created during the month were a modest 155,000, Labor Department figures showed on Friday.
Tepid economic growth and business reticence to hire as government leaders battled to the January 1 deadline to avert the economic crunch of the fiscal cliff meant that the employment situation registered little significant improvement in the final quarter of 2012.
The number of jobs created was slightly lower than in November, and close to the monthly average for both 2011 and 2012 of 153,000, showing the economy is still generating enough fresh positions to only slowly pull down the jobless rate.
As has been the pattern, the private sector was the source of employment gains, adding 168,000 jobs in December, while government authorities at the federal and local levels continued to trim payrolls, by 13,000.
At that pace, the unemployment rate has crept lower from 9.1 percent in January 2011 to 8.3 percent in January 2012 and now the 7.8 percent level where it has hovered since September.
The total number of the officially unemployed was little changed over the last quarter at 12.2 million.
The employment-to-population ratio, a measure of participation in the labor force, was at 58.6 per cent in December, unchanged from a year earlier and still much lower that the peak of 63.4 percent in December 2006, before the country plunged into financial crisis and then the deep 2008-2009 recession.
The little-changed jobs picture lent support to the Federal Reserve's December move to explicitly tie its eventual policy tightening to achieving a lower unemployment rate of at least 6.5 per cent.