The jobs report showed that hourly pay is staying slightly ahead of inflation. Hourly wages rose 7 cents to $23.73 last month, a 2.1 percent increase compared with a year earlier. Inflation rose 1.8 percent over the same period.
The once-depressed housing market is recovering. Companies ordered more long-lasting manufactured goods in November, a sign that they're investing more in equipment and software. And Americans spent more in November. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic growth.
Manufacturing is getting a boost from the best auto sales in five years. Car sales jumped 13 percent in 2012 to 14.5 million. And Americans spent more at the tail end of the holiday shopping season, boosting overall sales that had slumped earlier in the crucial two-month period.
Most economists expect little improvement this year. A 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security tax expired Jan. 1. That means a household with income of about $50,000 will have about $1,000 less to spend. And the government will may impose spending cuts this year.
Both the higher taxes and spending cuts, along with uncertainty about the future budget fights, will likely restrain growth and hiring.
That "likely means acceleration in the labor market will remain elusive for the time being," said Ellen Zentner, an economist at Nomura Securities.
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