Claims for first-time unemployment benefits rose by 17,000

Businesses have said they are holding back on hiring and investment while Congress attempts to solve the "fiscal cliff" issues of scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts expected to go into effect in January if lawmakers and the White House can't forge a deal. 

The economy added 146,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent, mainly because job seekers stopped looking for work. 

Some economists have said the figure indicates that businesses aren't laying off workers because of all the looming tax and spending issues. 

House and Senate Democrats are pressing for an extension of federal unemployment benefits, which are set to expire on Dec. 29. A expiration would leave more than 2.1 million long-term unemployed workers without their weekly check. 

The White House is urging congressional leaders to include a one-year extension into a fiscal cliff deal, which now isn't expected to be completed until after Christmas. 

A separate report on Thursday showed that the economy grew at a faster rate than estimated, 3.1 percent.