Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 155,000 jobs in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, but that was not enough to lower the unemployment rate of 7.8 percent as the pace of hiring appeared to remain steady.

Employment increased in health care, food services and drinking places, construction, and manufacturing last month. However, the number of unemployed persons, at 12.2 million, was little changed in December. The unemployment rate held at 7.8 percent and has been at or near that level since September.

In December, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 4.8 million and accounted for 39.1 percent of the unemployed.
Employment in financial activities and professional and business services showed little change over the course of the month, as it did in major sectors such as mining and logging, transportation and warehousing, and government.

Health care employment increased by 45,000 over the month, with gains in of 23,000 jobs in ambulatory health care services, 12,000 jobs in hospitals, and 10,000 jobs in nursing and residential care facilities. Health care added 338,000 jobs over the past 12 months.

Employment in food services and drinking places rose by 38,000 in December.  In 2012, the industry added an average of 24,000 jobs per month, essentially the same as in 2011.

Construction employment rose by 30,000 in December, with 13,000 jobs gained in construction of buildings and 12,000 in residential specialty trade contractors. In December, manufacturing employment grew by 25,000, with small gains in a number of component industries.  In 2012, manufacturing added 180,000 jobs; most of the growth occurred during the first quarter of the year.

However, within the retail trade, employment in clothing and accessories stores fell by 19,000 in December despite the holiday shopping season, following gains that totaled 55,000 over the prior three months.  In December, employment continued to trend upward at automobile dealerships and in food and beverage stores.

Average hourly earnings of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents in December to $23.73.  Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.1 percent.