And America's long-term unemployed are still struggling. More than 4 million people have been out of work for six months or longer. That figure was essentially unchanged in November. By contrast, the number of people who have been unemployed for less than six months fell.
Low-wage industries also still account for a disproportionate share of jobs added. About 45 percent of jobs created in the past year have been in retail, hotels, restaurants and entertainment, temporary positions and home health care.
Melinda Popel, 42, has worked at McDonald's in Kansas City, Mo., for most of the past 10 years. She left on two occasions to return to school but hasn't been able to find a job with the skills she gained.
She makes $7.35 an hour, just enough to pay her rent, and relies on food stamps to feed her three children. Popel took part in strikes on Thursday by fast-food workers seeking $15 an hour.
The steady decline in unemployment, from a high of 10 percent four years ago, is welcome news for the White House. But Jason Furman, President Barack Obama's top economic adviser, said the plight of the long-term unemployed points to the need to extend emergency unemployment benefits.
About 1.3 million people who've been out of work for six months or more will lose unemployment aid if a 5-year-old program to provide extra benefits expires on Dec. 28. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of an extension at $25 billion. Some Republicans have balked at the cost.
But on Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said he was willing to consider extending the program.
Among companies ramping up hiring is Eat24, which handles online restaurant deliveries. Eat24, based in San Francisco, expects this month to hire 10 to 15 salespeople, mobile application developers and data analysts, on top of its 150-person workforce.
"The economy is picking up a little bit," said Amir Eisenstein, the chief marketing officer. "In the last couple of years, the mobile market has boomed."
If hiring continues at its current pace, what economists call a virtuous cycle will likely kick in: More jobs typically lead to more pay, more spending and faster growth.
That said, more higher-paying jobs are needed to sustain the economy's momentum.
Consumers have been willing to spend on big-ticket items. Autos sold in November at their best pace in seven years, according to Autodata Corp. New-home sales in October bounced back from a summer downturn.
But early reports on holiday shopping have been disappointing. The National Retail Federation said sales during the Thanksgiving weekend — probably the most important stretch for retailers — fell for the first time since the group began keeping track in 2006.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber .