WASHINGTON -- The job market is showing signs of the consistent gains the nation has awaited in the 41⁄2 years since the Great Recession.
Employers added 203,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate fell to 7 percent, a five-year low, the Labor Department reported Friday. Four straight months of robust hiring have raised hopes that 2014 will be the year the economy returns to normal.
The steady job growth could also hasten a move by the Federal Reserve to reduce its stimulus efforts.
Stock investors were heartened by the report. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 198 points.
A steadily improving job market could give consumers and business executives the confidence to keep spending and investing, even if a pullback by the Fed leads to higher interest rates.
The Fed has been buying bonds each month to try to keep long-term borrowing rates low to spur spending and growth.
The celebration on Wall Street suggested that investors think a healthier job market, if it fuels more spending, would outweigh higher borrowing rates caused by a Fed pullback.
"It's hinting very, very strongly that the economy is starting to ramp up, that growth is getting better, that businesses are hiring," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.
The economy has added a four-month average of 204,000 jobs from August through November, up sharply from 159,000 a month from April through July.
NSA defends cellphone tracking: The National Security Agency is defending its tracking of foreign cellphones overseas. It says the practice is legal under a U.S. presidential order governing all U.S. government spying. The agency said Friday it isn't tracking every foreign phone and call, and that it takes measures to limit how much U.S. data is collected. The Washington Post reported last week that the agency gathers up to five billion records every day about the location data for hundreds of millions of cellphones worldwide.
Americans increase their borrowing: Americans boosted their borrowing in October, led by another big increase in auto and student loans and the biggest rise in credit card debt in five months. Consumers increased their borrowing by $18.2 billion in October to a seasonally adjusted $3.08 trillion, the Federal Reserve reported Friday. That is a record level and follows a September increase of $16.3 billion. The increase was led by a $13.9 billion rise in borrowing for auto loans and student loans. But borrowing in the category that covers credit cards rose by $4.3 billion following a decline of $218 million in September.
Court will hear appeal on patent case: The Supreme Court decided Friday to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that a federal judge called the "death" of software patents. In a worst-case scenario for the high-tech industry, if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling it could invalidate many existing software patents or at least make them more difficult to defend in lawsuits. Justices decided to hear an appeal from electronic marketplace Alice Corp., in its attempt to patent its computer-implemented escrow systems, software, and methods. It is being challenged by CLS Bank International. The Supreme Court has already ruled that abstract ideas, natural phenomena and laws of nature cannot be patented but has refused so far to decide whether software, online-shopping techniques and medical diagnostic tests fit into that realm.