The nation's unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent last month as job growth weakened, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.
Businesses added 157,000 jobs during the month, down from 196,000 in December and 247,000 in November. The monthly average of job growth during 2012 was 181,000 after revisions by the department that showed 422,000 more jobs were added during the year.
Unemployment edged up from 7.8 percent in December, but was down from 8.3 percent in January 2012.
Chis Williamson, economist at Markit, called January's job performance "a solid gain" and "welcome reassurance" coming only two days after the government revealed that economic growth came to a halt at the end of last year.
"This is reassuring evidence that the U.S. is not falling back into recession" even as the United Kingdom and Japan show signs of slumping into triple-dip recessions, he said.
Mr. Williamson said the extra 127,000 jobs the department found due to revisions in November and December add an "encouraging" note to the report, as does evidence that the private sector is generating all of today's jobs, not the government.
Government jobs, in fact, declined by 9,000 in January. Most of the job losses in government have been at the state and local level.
Marie Lopez Rogers, president of the National League of Cities and mayor of Avondale, Ariz., said with cities in a fragile financial state, the report highlights the importance of Congress preventing more big cuts in discretionary spending this spring.
Across the board cuts in domestic discretionary programs, which tend to hit grants to states and cities hard, are scheduled for March 1, with Republicans in Congress saying they intend to let them take effect unless Democrats agree to major reforms in in entitlement programs.
"The cuts are too blunt an instrument that threatens to pull the economy back and at the expense of our cities' families," said Ms. Rogers.
Last month's net gains in jobs of 157,000 were concentrated in retailing, health care and construction.
Building was the hardest-hit sector during the recession and has seen a revival in the last four months. Even with the creation of nearly 300,000 jobs in the last two years since bottoming out, however, the industry still has 2 million fewer workers than in 2006, the peak of the housing bubble, the department said.
Average hourly earnings also enjoyed a revival last month, rising by 4 cents an hour to $23.78, bringing the yearly gain to 2.1 percent. Wage gains had been dragging at under 2 percent since the recession, but in recent months appear to be finally staging a recovery.
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