WASHINGTON — The U.S. job market is proving surprisingly resilient.
Solid job growth in November cut the U.S. unemployment rate to 7 percent, a five-year low. The robust gain suggested that the economy may have begun to accelerate. As more employers step up hiring, more people have money to spend to drive the economy.
Employers added 203,000 jobs last month after adding 200,000 in October, the Labor Department said Friday. November's job gain helped lower the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent in October. The economy has added a four-month average of 204,000 jobs from August through November, up sharply from 159,000 a month from April through July.
"It's hinting very, very strongly that the economy is starting to ramp up, that growth is getting better, that businesses are hiring," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.
The job growth has also fueled speculation that the Federal Reserve will scale back its economic stimulus when it meets later this month.
It "gives the Fed all the evidence it needs to begin tapering its asset purchases at the next ... meeting," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.
Stock investors were heartened by the news. The Dow Jones industrial average surged nearly 178 points in early afternoon trading.
The unemployment rate has fallen nearly a full percentage point since the Fed began buying bonds in September 2012 and has reached 7 percent earlier than most analysts had expected.
In June, Chairman Ben Bernanke had suggested that the Fed would end its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases after the unemployment rate reached 7 percent. The Fed's bond purchases have been intended to keep borrowing rates low.
Bernanke later backed away from the 7 percent target. He cautioned that the Fed would weigh numerous economic factors in any decision it makes about its bond purchases. Many economists still think the Fed won't begin to cut back until January or later.