It's unkown at this point whether some of the good news on jobs is the result of holiday hiring or whether we have perhaps finally turned a corner and could see some real relief for the unemployed.
Although growth is quickening from the third quarter's 2 percent annual rate, analysts caution that troubles in debt-stricken Europe pose a major risk to the U.S. economy. The fourth quarter growth pace is expected to top 3 percent.
Much of the rest of the global economy is already weakening, with the euro zone expected to slip into recession.
The U.S. economy also faces a risk that lawmakers will fail to extend a payroll tax cut and emergency jobless benefits that expire at year end, which would dent the expansion in 2012.
For now, however, it continues to show resilience.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 19,000 to 366,000, the lowest since May 2008, the Labor Department said. That follows on the heels of a report earlier this month that showed the jobless rate hit a 2-1/2-year low of 8.6 percent in November.
REGIONAL FACTORY ACTIVITY PICKS UP
The economy's firming tone was also emphasized by data showing an acceleration in factory activity in New York state and the Mid-Atlantic region this month.
All of this will be seen as an illusion of the euro zone goes south - perhaps as early as next month when tens of billions of dollars in Italian debt will have to roll over. And if little progress is shown in an EU agreement about fiscal union, that too could sink US recovery efforts.
Regardless, a lot of Americans got good Christmas news - they still have a job.