By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ It takes more than a superstorm to derail the U.S. job market.
Employers added 146,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dipped to 7.7 percent, a four-year low, the government said Friday.
Though modest, the job growth was encouraging because it defied disruptions from Superstorm Sandy and employers' concerns about impending tax increases from the year-end "fiscal cliff."
Analysts said the job market's underlying strength suggests that if the White House and Congress can reach a budget deal to avoid the cliff, hiring and economic growth could accelerate next year.
A budget agreement would coincide with gains in key sectors of the economy.
Builders are breaking ground on more homes, which should increase construction hiring. U.S. automakers just enjoyed their best sales month in nearly five years. And a resolution of the fiscal cliff could lead businesses to buy more industrial machinery and other heavy equipment. That would generate more manufacturing jobs.
"The ground is being prepared for faster growth," said Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight.
House GOP leader John Boehner said Friday that the two sides had made little progress in talks seeking a deal to steer clear of the cliff.
The White House used Friday's mixed jobs report as an argument to push President Barack Obama's proposed tax-rate increases for top earners, public works spending and refinancing help for struggling homeowners.
Superstorm Sandy, contrary to expectations, dampened job growth only minimally in November, the government said. Job gains were roughly the same as this year's 150,000 monthly average, and the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to its lowest level since December 2008.
That suggests that fears about the cliff haven't led employers to cut staff, though they aren't hiring aggressively, either. The economy must produce roughly twice November's job gain to quickly lower the unemployment rate.