NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Investors hoping that the government's December employment report would give a greater sense of direction were disappointed on Friday. The month's job growth fell short, and although the unemployment rate fell to a much better-than-expected level of 9.4%, there's a feeling that this improvement has a cosmetic quality, reflecting people who stop looking for a job more than anything else. So although the Dow has now risen in six straight weeks, investors may get restless if next week's data and the beginning trickle of fourth-quarter reports don't cooperate. On Friday the Labor Department said nonfarm payrolls rose by 103,000 in December from November's upwardly revised level of 71,000, missing Wall Street's expectations for job growth of 150,000. Estimates ranged from 98,000 to 225,000 as a surprisingly bullish report from Automatic Data Processing on Wednesday showed private-sector job growth of 297,000, setting a high bar for Friday's report. "The strong increase in the household survey was accompanied by a big drop in the labor force, down 260,000 in December -- the third consecutive monthly drop in the civilian labor force," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC, pointing to the household employment survey's increase of 297,000, which matched the ADP number. "These opposing forces allowed the unemployment rate to sink to 9.4% for the month." > > Bull or Bear? Vote in Our Poll The coming week promises a range of data including reads on December production, retail sales, inflationary pressures and an initial look at January consumer sentiment. "Jobs data is the single most important statistic that investors have their eyes on now since it remains a key measure of the temperature of an economic recovery," said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors. "Friday's job number is going to be augmented by next week's data before investors draw any firm conclusions about what happens next. The beginning of earnings season will help that, too." Alcoa's ( AA) report, which marks the unofficial start to earnings season as the first Dow component to disclose its numbers, is scheduled for after Monday's closing bell. Analysts are anticipating earnings of 19 cents a share, up from a profit of 1 cent a share a year ago, according to Briefing.com.