Many economists expect employers to add an average of 150,000 to 175,000 jobs a month in 2013, about the same pace as in 2011 and 2012. That level is too weak to quickly reduce unemployment.

The roughly 2 million jobs Zandi estimates employers will add this year would be slightly more than the 1.8 million likely added in 2012. Zandi thinks employers would add an additional 600,000 jobs this year if not for the measures agreed to in the fiscal cliff deal.

Federal Reserve policymakers have forecast that the unemployment rate will fall to 7.4 percent, at best, by year's end. Economists regard a "normal" rate as 6 percent or less.

â¿¿ CONSUMER SPENDING

Consumer confidence fell in December as Americans began to fear the higher taxes threatened by the fiscal cliff. Confidence had reached a five-year high in November, fueled by slowly declining unemployment and a steady housing rebound. Consumer spending is the driving force of the economy.

But the deal to avoid the cliff won't necessarily ignite a burst of spending. Taxes will still rise for nearly 80 percent of working Americans because of the higher Social Security tax rate.

Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, pay has barely kept up with inflation. The Social Security tax increase will cut paychecks further. And with the job market likely to remain tight, few companies have much incentive to hand out raises.

Thanks to record-low interest rates, consumers have whittled their debts to about 113 percent of their after-tax income. That's the lowest share since mid-2003, according to Haver Analytics.

Yet that hardly means people are ready to reverse course and ramp up credit-card purchases. Most new spending would have to come from higher incomes, says Ellen Zentner, senior economist at Nomura Securities.

"We don't see the mindset of, 'Let's run up the credit card again,'" she says.

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