Labor market reflects sustained improvement

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 However, a Labor Department spokesman said those estimates are usually "fairly accurate." Five states also did not provide figures, so the Labor Department provided estimates for those missing figures, according to news reports. 

Hiring needs to pick up to lower the unemployment rate, which stands at 7.7 percent. The jobless rate dropped from 7.9 percent in November, but that was mostly because more workers looked for jobs. 

Business leaders have been pushing lawmakers to work together to solve looming tax and spending issues expected to go into effect next week, arging that a "fiscal cliff" agreement would spur more hiring and investment heading into 2013. 

But Congress and the White House remain at an impasse with time running out.  

President Obama returned from Hawaii on Thursday morning, shortly after the Senate gaveled back into session with pressure rising to reach a deal before the new year.

The president has spoken to all four congressional leaders about working toward a deal. 

In addition to the fiscal cliff tax and spending issues, those out of work for six months or more are facing the loss of their jobless benefits with the program set to expire on Saturday — affecting about 2.1 million people.  

House Democrats and Obama administration have said a one-year extension of the federal benefits program must be included in any year-end deal. 

—This story was updated at 10:30 a.m.