By John S. McClenahen Even as the nation's small companies anticipate new hires and help-wanted signs are starting to appear in retailers' windows, U.S. manufacturing continues to lose jobs. Manufacturing employment declined by an additional 26,000 workers in December 2003, the U.S. Labor Department reported on Jan. 9. The majority of the losses -- 18,000 jobs -- came among producers of nondurable goods, those products designed to last less than three years. The largest losses came in printing, which shed 4,000 jobs, and textile mills, from which 3,000 workers were laid off. U.S. manufacturing lost 516,000 jobs last year, and since July 2000, the most recent month that American factories added jobs, the job loss totals 2.8 million, the Labor Department says. The overall U.S. nonfarm economy -- which in addition to manufacturing includes construction, retail trade, professional and business services, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and government -- added jobs in December, but far fewer than expected. Only 1,000 new jobs were added, a tiny fraction of the 100,000 or more jobs that some analysts anticipated. Nevertheless, the U.S. unemployment rate, which is based on a different Labor Department survey from the one the department uses to gather jobs data, fell to 5.7% in December from 5.9% in November as 309,000 people dropped out of the U.S. civilian workforce.