Holiday hiring: Lots of new jobs, jobseekers

WASHINGTON - The nation's job machine is showing it is indeed sturdy - generating new jobs despite two out-of-whack cogs in the gears of the economy.

There have been fears that the woes of those two - the housing and automotive industries - might spill over and gunk up the rest of the economy, stifling overall job creation and the economic expansion.

But a mostly positive report by the Labor Department on Friday eased those concerns and cheered Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 29.08 points to close at 12,307.49.

Employers added 132,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, an improvement from the 79,000 generated in October.

Sharing in the gains were retailers, bars and restaurants, hotels and motels, health care providers, financial firms, computer-design outfits and architectural and engineering companies. Their increases eclipsed job losses, mostly in construction and manufacturing.

''The economy may be slowing but the labor market is not falling apart,'' said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. That's especially comforting, he said, given that ''manufacturing and construction continue to shed jobs like my cat sheds hair on a hot day.''

The unemployment rate crept up to 4.5 percent, which is still relatively low by historical standards. Feeling better about job prospects, people poured into the labor market looking for work last month, a factor that played a key role in pushing up the rate.

''The unemployment rate is low enough that it is enticing workers who had stepped out of the market to step back in,'' said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

The rate had declined to 4.4 percent in October, the best showing in five years.

Workers, many of whom have seen their paychecks whittled by inflation, saw wages pick up last month. Average hourly earnings rose to $16.94, a modest 0.2 percent increase from October. Over the past 12 months, wages have grown by 4.1 percent.