U.S. employers added a stellar 312,000 jobs in December

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers dramatically stepped up their hiring in December, adding 312,000 jobs in an encouraging display of strength for an economy in the midst of a trade war, slowing global growth and a partial shutdown of the federal government.

The Labor Department said the unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.9 percent, but that reflected a surge in job seekers — a positive for growth.

Average hourly pay improved 3.2 percent from a year ago.

The health care, food services, construction and manufacturing sectors were the primary contributors to last month’s hiring.

The strong job gains suggest the tumbling stock market has yet to depress expectations that the economy will expand for a 10th straight year.

Still, growth is likely to slow as the stimulus from last year’s tax cuts wane.

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