Home prices have been rising steadily. Higher home values tend to make Americans feel wealthier and more likely to spend.
Housing construction is recovering, too. Construction spending rose last year for the first time in six years and is expected to add 1 percentage point to economic growth this year.
The housing rebound appears finally to be producing a long-awaited return of construction-industry jobs, which have typically help drive economic recoveries. Construction companies added 28,000 jobs in January. Over the past three months, construction has added 82,000 jobs â¿¿ the best quarterly increase since 2006. Even with the gains, construction employment is about 2 million below its housing-bubble peak of 7.7 million in April 2006.
Health care employers added 28,000 jobs in January. Retailers added 33,000, and hotels and restaurants 17,000. The job growth in retail, hotels and restaurants suggests that employers have grown more confident about consumer spending, which fuels about 70 percent of the economy.
The government uses a survey of mostly large businesses and government agencies to determine how many jobs are added or lost each month. That's the survey that produced the gain of 157,000 jobs for January.
It uses a separate survey of households to calculate the unemployment rate. That survey captures hiring by companies of all sizes, including small businesses, new companies, farm workers and the self-employed. From month to month, the two surveys sometimes contradict each other. Over time, the differences between them usually even out.
The household survey for January found that 117,000 more Americans said they were unemployed than in December. That's why the unemployment rate inched up from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent.
Some economists had feared that federal budget standoffs might chill spending, investing and hiring. They worried that companies wouldn't hire and consumers would scale back spending in November and December because big spending cuts and tax increases were to take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and congressional Republicans couldn't reach a budget deal.