WASHINGTON -- The jobless rate held at 7.8% in December, roughly unchanged in four months, as jobs created during the month were a modest 155,000, Labor Department figures showed Friday.

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.

"So much for all that uncertainty over the 'fiscal cliff,'" commented Scott Paul, executive director of Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). "Manufacturers added 25,000 jobs in December. If that’s the pace of manufacturing job growth in President Obama’s second term, we’ll be on track to add 1.2 million manufacturing jobs -- easily surpassing his goal of one million new manufacturing jobs. But December was an outlier during the last three quarters of 2012, when manufacturing employment was essentially stagnant."

Looking more specifically at the December manufacturing employment numbers, durable and nondurable goods sectors added 11,000 and 14,000 workers, respectively. Most of these gains can be largely contributed to rebuilding after Sandy as construction jobs also saw an increase of 30,000.

The largest gains were seen in the motor vehicle and parts (up 4,800), food manufacturing (up 4,500), chemicals (up 4,300), nonmetallic mineral products (up 3,500), plastics and rubber products (up 2,100), and machinery (up 2,000) businesses.

"Over the course of 2012, manufacturers hired an additional 180,000 workers on net, or 10% of all nonfarm payroll jobs created this year, the majority of which were created in the first half of 2012," said Chad Moutray, chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.

"This was slower growth than we had hoped to see, clearly the fiscal cliff and other uncertainties had an impact in the second half of the year," he added. “Some of the uncertainties in the economy have been removed with the fiscal cliff agreement, but Congress failed to address the debt and deficit issues which will still be a drag on the economy. Washington must move forward with pro-growth policies to allow manufacturers to grow in 2013.”

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% in January 2011 to 8.3% in January 2012 and now the 7.8% 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 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%.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013, IW Staff