A new Labor Department report showed a mixed picture of an improving economy. The jobs report also shows the urgency of leaders in Washington reaching a fair and balanced “fiscal cliff” deal to prevent the nation from slipping back into a recession.

The U.S. economy added 146,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest since December 2008, the report said.

Superstorm Sandy had less effect on the economy than forecast, according to government figures. Still, Sandy forced restaurants, retailers and other businesses to close in late October and early November in 24 states, particularly in the Northeast.

Retailers added 53,000 positions last month. Temporary help companies added 18,000 and education and health care also gained 18,000 jobs.

In November, auto manufacturers added nearly 10,000 jobs.

Overall manufacturing had a loss of 7,000 jobs.

While the unemployment rate fell to a four-year low in November from 7.9 percent in October, it was mostly because more people stopped looking for work and weren’t counted as unemployed. This suggests the labor market is still tepid.

The report is “somewhat of a mixed bag, but on balance, it’s a positive,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.

Ashworth said the job growth showed there is “no obvious impact from the looming fiscal cliff yet,” but he added, “it could still have a greater effect on December’s figures.”

A Thomson Reuters University of Michigan index released Friday showed consumers’ outlook on the economy and their finances fell in December.

Still, economists say economic growth could accelerate next year if President Barack Obama and House Republicans do not avert a “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and spending cuts slated for January.

The new jobs report should give the president even more leverage in fiscal cliff negotiations. Obama can argue that his policies are improving more job creation.

Congress should be urged to reach a deal now to prevent an income tax increase on the middle class before the end of year. Then next year leaders in Washington can be thoughtful in focusing on a deficit reduction deal that focuses primarily on job growth.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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