U.S. employment ducks Superstorm Sandy’s punch

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. companies kept up their slow but steady hiring pace in November, defying predictions that Superstorm Sandy would deal a big blow to the labor market.

While the unemployment rate fell to a near four-year low of 7.7 percent, that was only because many Americans gave up the hunt for work, tempering the signal from the stronger-than-expected payrolls growth.

A big drop in consumer confidence in December, the largest fall in more than 1-1/2 years, also offered a cautionary note on the economy’s health.

Non-farm employment expanded by 146,000 jobs last month after gaining 138,000 in October, the Labor Department said on Friday. The increase was well above the 93,000 expected on Wall Street.

“We are moving in a trend-like modest job-growth environment,” said Michael Hanson, a senior economist at Bank of Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. “We really need to see payroll numbers break above 200,000 for a while to think we have a more sustained recovery under way.”

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