compared to an average of about 400,000 a month in October and November.
This latest figure compares to a revised 5.6% unemployment rate in November and is the highest level in six and half years.
The manufacturing sector lost 133,000 jobs as companies continued to try to pare down inventory in the face of sluggish demand. That means the rest of economy gained a slim 9,000 jobs.
The aggregate hours worked in the economy in December was unchanged from November, while average hourly wages rose 0.5%. So the total payroll was up 0.5% - this is a 6%-plus annual rate - more than enough to keep consumer spending and freight rising slowly. Payrolls also rose slightly in November. Preliminary reports on holiday sales confirm that non-auto consumer spending likely increased slightly in December.
The increase in the unemployment rate comes following better news this week for the manufacturing and construction sectors as well as increased consumer confidence.
Analysts predict the labor market will be one of the last signs of recovery as the country is predicted to emerge from recession some time this year. They are forecasting the unemployment rate probably will continue to rise in the next few months because companies will be reluctant to hire back workers, even as the economy shows signs of improving.