The gain in hiring nearly matched the average of 153,000 jobs per month in 2011 and 2012. That's been just enough to slowly push down the unemployment rate, which fell 0.7 percentage points in 2012.

Thursday's JOLTS report looks at total hiring, layoffs and quits. The report released Friday measured net hiring and unemployment.

The JOLTs report suggests that employers didn't step up layoffs or cut back on hiring in the midst of the debate over the tax and spending changes known as the fiscal cliff. Many economists feared that the prospect of higher taxes and steep cuts in federal spending would drag on job gains.

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.

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