WASHINGTON — U.S. employers added 157,000 jobs in January, and hiring was much stronger at the end of last year than the government had previously estimated.
The Labor Department’s estimated job gains for the final two months of 2012 — a period when the economy was being threatened by the “fiscal cliff”— rose from 161,000 to 247,000 for November and from 155,000 to 196,000 for December.
The mostly encouraging jobs report Friday included one negative sign: The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in December. The rate is calculated from a survey of households, and more people in that survey said they were unemployed.
The monthly job gains are derived from a separate survey of employers.
The hiring picture over the past two years also looked stronger after the department’s annual revisions. The revisions showed that employers added an average of roughly 180,000 jobs a month in 2012 and 2011. That was up from previous estimates of about 150,000.
“The significantly stronger payroll gains tell us the economy has a lot more momentum than what we had thought,” Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, said in a research note.
Other economic news was encouraging Friday.
MANUFACTURING: U.S. manufacturing activity grew at a faster pace in January, driven by an increase in new orders and more hiring at factories.
The Institute for Supply Management said Friday that its index of manufacturing activity jumped to 53.1 in January from 50.2 in December. It was the highest reading since April, when the index hit 54.1.
Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.
The second straight monthly increase in the index showed manufacturing is starting to grow again after struggling through most of 2012. Uncertainty about tax increases and deep government spending cuts led many companies to reduce orders for machinery and equipment earlier this year. And a weaker global economy dampened demand for U.S. exports.
The report was also encouraging because it showed that demand for factory goods increased even as consumers started to pay higher Social Security taxes.
CONSTRUCTION: Spending on U.S. construction projects rose in December, ending a year in which construction activity increased for the first time in six years.
Construction spending rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $885 billion in December, the Commerce Department said Friday. That was up 0.9 percent from November, when spending increased a revised 0.1 percent.
For all of 2012, construction spending totaled $850.2 billion, a gain of 9.2 percent from 2011, when construction spending had fallen 3.3 percent. Even with the increase, construction activity is 27.2 percent below the all-time high of $1.17 trillion set in 2006 at the peak of the housing boom.
Construction has been posting a slow recovery, led by housing gains. In December, housing and nonresidential construction posted gains but spending on government projects fell.
AUTO SALES: American consumers ignored tax increases and trudged through winter weather to buy new cars and trucks at an unusually strong pace last month. It was the auto industry’s best January since 2008.
U.S. auto sales rose 14 percent to more than 1 million. Toyota’s 27 percent gain was the biggest among the major car companies. Ford’s sales jumped 22 percent, while GM and Chrysler each reported 16 percent gains compared with a year earlier.