While the Fed weighs its options, U.S. employers may finally be gaining enough confidence in the economy, 4½ years after the recession officially ended, to ramp up hiring. In addition to the solid job gain and the drop in unemployment, Friday's report offered other encouraging signs:
— Higher-paying industries are adding more jobs. Manufacturers added 27,000 jobs, the most since March 2012. Construction companies added 17,000. The two industries have created a combined 113,000 jobs over the past four months.
— Hourly wages are up. The average rose 4 cents in November to $24.15. It's risen just 2 percent in the past year. But that's ahead of inflation: Consumer prices are up only 0.9 percent in that time.
— Employers are giving their workers more hours: The average work week rose to 34.5 hours from 34.4. A rule of thumb among economists is that a one-tenth hourly increase in the work week is equivalent to adding 300,000 jobs.
— Hiring was broad-based. In addition to higher-paying industries, retailers added 22,300 jobs, restaurants, bars and hotels 20,800. Education and health care added 40,000. And after years of cutbacks, state and local governments are hiring again. In November, governments at all levels combined added 7,000 jobs.
Still, the report contained some sour notes: Many Americans are still avoiding the job market, neither working nor looking for work. That's one reason the unemployment rate has fallen in recent months. The percentage of adults either working or searching for jobs remains near a 35-year low.
And America's long-term unemployed are still struggling. More than 4 million people have been out of work for six months or longer. That figure was essentially unchanged in November. By contrast, the number of people who have been unemployed for less than six months fell last month.
Among companies that are ramping up hiring is Eat24, which handles online restaurant deliveries. Eat24, based in San Francisco, expects this month to hire 10 to 15 salespeople, mobile application developers and data analysts, on top of its 150-person workforce.