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US Economy Adds 171K Jobs; Rate Rises To 7.9 Pct.

For the third time since the recovery from the Great Recession began in June 2009, the economy appears to be picking up momentum.

Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month. That is up from an average of 67,000 a month from April through June.

The pickup in hiring suggests that businesses aren't as worried as many analysts thought about the package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the "fiscal cliff" that will take effect unless Congress acts by Jan. 1.

Companies have cut back spending on computers, industrial machinery and other heavy equipment in recent months. That was seen by many economists as a sign of concern about the cliff and Europe's economic deterioration.

But better consumer demand may be encouraging employers to hire more employees anyway. James Marple, an economist at TD Bank, said hiring could take off next year if the fiscal cliff is avoided.

"The fact that businesses are continuing to expand even with huge fiscal uncertainty means that once this cloud lifts, the pace of job creation has lots of room to accelerate," he said.

One big question is whether consumers will be able to keep spending enough to propel growth. Average hourly wages rose only 1.1 percent in the past 12 months, the slowest annual pace on records dating back to 1965.

But the economy has added 1.6 million jobs in 10 months this year. All those new paychecks mean more demand for goods and services, which should lead to more hiring. The country could enter what economists call a virtuous cycle, an escalating loop of hiring, more spending and still more hiring.

Politically, the report was more neutral. It allowed both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, political ammunition in the fading days of the campaign.

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