That's a good sign, since more budget showdowns are expected. Congress must vote to raise the government's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by around late February. If not, the government risks defaulting on its debt. Republicans will likely demand deep spending cuts as the price of raising the debt limit.
Still, hiring is too weak to rapidly reduce the number of unemployed, which stands at 12.2 million. That's far higher than the 7.6 million who were out of work when the Great Recession began in December 2007.
There are signs the economy is improving. The once-battered housing market is recovering, which should lead to more construction jobs in the coming months. A gauge of U.S. service firms' business activity expanded in December by the most in nearly a year. Auto sales for 2012 were the best in five years. And Americans spent more at the end of the crucial holiday shopping season.