In 2012, employers have hired about 151,500 workers a month on average, Labor Department data showed. Monthly payroll additions averaged about 153,300 in 2011.
Labor market progress is more pronounced when considering the jobless rate, which fell 0.8 percentage point to 7.7 percent from the end of 2011 through November.
Federal Reserve policy makers last month linked the central bank’s main interest rate to unemployment and inflation and expanded an asset purchasing program in an effort to spark the economy.
Interest rates will stay low “at least as long” as the jobless rate remains above 6.5 percent and if inflation “between one and two years ahead” is projected to be no more than 2.5 percent, the Federal Open Market Committee said in December.
Service providers including uniform supplier Cintas Corp. and payroll processor Paychex Inc. are among those reporting few signs that companies are expanding their worker ranks given the uncertainty over the outlook for fiscal policy late last year.
Small business sentiment in particular remains weak, Paychex Chief Executive Officer Marty Mucci said.
“We start to see an improvement, kind of, in the feeling in the economy and then it gets back to kind of standing on the sidelines,” Mucci said on a Dec. 20 earnings call. “We need to see not only new business starts, but a little bit more investment and consumer confidence buying things, then people will open up.”