The private sector continued to drive the growth, adding 168,000 jobs, while government employers shed 13,000 positions. Employment increased in health care, food services and drinking places and manufacturing. Construction jobs were also up, likely as a result of rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy.
But December's overall figures were only slightly better than 2012's average growth of 153,000 per month, which mirrored the 2011 pace. That's not enough to make a significant dent in the unemployment rate, economists said.
"The labor market survived the fiscal cliff, but continues to move sideways," said Ellen Zentner, senior U.S. economist with Nomura Securities.
Still, it seems clear the labor market is less resilient than it has been for much of the post-World War II period, said Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at CohnReznick.
"The job market doesn't appear to have the bounce it once did," he said.
There remains a deep hole left by the financial crisis and millions are still out of work. The number of long-term unemployed stayed essentially unchanged at 4.8 million, or 39.1% of the jobless.
A job with under 1% unemployment
One positive note is that there was a notable rise in the number of unemployed re-entering the market, O'Keefe said. The figure jumped nearly 8% in December, possibly signaling a renewed sense of optimism among the jobless.
Wage growth also remained unimpressive, with average hourly earnings rising 2.1% in 2012. But that was not sufficient to keep pace with rising prices.
"It's better than backsliding, but it's not enough for workers to get ahead of inflation," O'Keefe said.
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