U.S. employers added 155,000 jobs in December, a steady gain that shows hiring held up during the tense negotiations to resolve the fiscal cliff.

The solid job growth wasn't enough to push down the unemployment rate, which remained 7.8 per cent last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The rate for November was revised up from an initially reported 7.7 per cent.

This compares to Canada’s 7.1 per cent unemployment rate in December, its lowest in four years, which was also revealed on Friday.

'The overall picture is that the labour market remains lackluster'—Economist Paul Ashworth

The U.S. government also said hiring was stronger in the previous month than first thought. November's job gains were revised up 15,000 to 161,000. October's increase was nearly unchanged at 137,000.

The "gain is perhaps better than it looks given that firms were probably nervous about adding workers with the fiscal cliff looming," said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

And yet, he added in a note to investors, "the overall picture is that the labour market remains lackluster."

Robust hiring in manufacturing and construction fueled the December job gains. Construction firms added 30,000, the most in 15 months. That increase likely reflected hiring needed to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy and also gains in home building that have contributed to a housing recovery.

Manufacturers added 25,000 jobs, the most in nine months. 

Other higher-paying industries also added jobs, while the numbers in lower-paying sectors were mixed. Restaurants and bars added 38,000 jobs. Retailers cut 11,300, a sign that the holiday shopping season may have been weak. But those cuts came after three months of strong gains. 

All the job gains last month came from private employers. Governments shed 13,000 jobs, mostly in local school systems.

Hiring still isn't strong enough to quickly reduce still-high unemployment. For 2012, employers added 1.84 million jobs, an average of 153,000 jobs a month, roughly matching the job totals for 2011.