The December

employment report

revealed significantly more job growth than most economists were expecting, but the key economic report was more or less benign in most other respects.


Bureau of Labor Statistics

counted 315,000 new

nonfarm jobs

in December, compared with an average forecast of 224,000 among economists polled by



But crucially, the

unemployment rate

held steady at 4.1%, the lowest level since 1970. That was the average forecast, but more than a few economists were predicting that it would drop to 4.0%. (They weren't too far off, though; the rate rounds to 4.1%, but more precisely, it is 4.059%.) A drop in the unemployment rate might have been seen as a green light for the


to raise interest rates.

And while

average hourly earnings

increased 0.4%, slightly more than expected, the pace of earnings growth hasn't reached a threatening level yet. Last April, earnings were growing at a 4.4% rate. In December, the pace was 3.7%, 0.1 percentage point faster than in November.

Market participants may look warily, however, at the latest drop in a nonofficial component of the jobs report -- the so-called augmented unemployment rate, which

examined in a recent

story. This statistic, which is Fed Chairman

Alan Greenspan's

new fave, adds the number of people who want a job but who are not counted in the labor force because they have not searched for a job recently, to the number of unemployed (who are counted in the labor force), and looks at that group as a percentage of the labor force.

The BLS doesn't calculate this rate; you have to do it yourself from numbers contained in the jobs report. And the number of people who want a job isn't seasonally adjusted yet, since before this month there were fewer than six years worth of data. But using unadjusted numbers, the augmented unemployment rate dropped to 6.45% in December, a new low. Using a combination of seasonally adjusted and unadjusted numbers, it dropped to a new low of 6.75%.

The jobs report's fourth major component, the length of the average workweek, was unchanged in December at 34.5 hours.

There were no major revisions to the November employment report. Nonfarm payrolls growth was revised to 222,000 from 234,000, and the average workweek was revised from 34.6 hours.

The service sector accounted for most of December's job growth. It added 298,000 jobs. Construction payrolls expanded by 16,000, while manufacturing lost 1,000 jobs. But last month's change in manufacturing payrolls was revised to a gain of 8,000 from a loss of 2,000.