US employers may post a 5th month of solid hiring

WASHINGTON (AP) — A survey of economists finds raised expectations of job growth in the employment data to be released by the Labor Department this morning.

Economists in the FactSet survey predict that employers added 196,000 jobs last month, nearly as strong as November's robust gain of 203,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain at a five-year low of 7 percent.

Another month of 200,000 or so new jobs would suggest that employers are hiring at a sustained pace. That's what policymakers and job hunters have hoped for since the Great Recession ended more than 4½ years ago.

Recent data from other sectors have also painted a picture of an economy on the steady rise.

Analysts now estimate that the economy expanded at a healthy annual rate of 3 percent to 3.5 percent in the October-December quarter.

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