The economy added 192,000 jobs last month, with factories, professional and business services, education and health care among those expanding employment. Retailers, however, trimmed jobs. State and local government, wrestling with budget shortfalls, slashed 30,000 jobs, the most since November.
The government's report Friday bolstered hopes that employers will shift into a more aggressively hiring mode and allow the economic recovery to get on firmer footing.
The unemployment rate has been falling for three months, down from 9.8 percent in November.