The solid job growth wasn't enough to push down the unemployment rate, which stayed 7.8 percent last month, according to the Labor Department's report Friday. November's rate was revised higher from an initially reported 7.7 percent.
Stock futures rose modestly after the report was released.
Robust hiring in manufacturing and construction fueled the December gains. Construction firms added 30,000 jobs, the most in 15 months. That likely reflects additional hiring needed to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy and also solid gains in home building that have contributed to a housing recovery.
Manufacturers gained 25,000, the most in nine months.
Even with the gains, hiring is far from accelerating. Employers added an average of 153,000 jobs a month last year, matching the monthly average in 2011. Employers added 1.84 million jobs in 2012, the same as the previous year.
Still, the stable hiring last month means employers didn't panic during the high-stakes talks between Congress and the White House over tax increases and spending cuts that were not resolved until the new year. That's a good sign for the coming months, since more budget disputes are expected.
While the parties reached a deal this week that removed the threat of income tax increases on most Americans, they postponed the more difficult decisions on cutting spending. And the government must also increase its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit by around late February or risk defaulting on its debt.
There were indications in the December report of the job market's ongoing sluggishness. The number of Americans unemployed actually rose 164,000 to 12.2 million. The unemployment figures come from a separate survey of households, while the job counts are derived from a survey of businesses.
Still, the economy is improving. Layoffs are declining, and the number of people who sought unemployment aid in the past month is near a four-year low.
The once-battered housing market is recovering. Companies ordered more long-lasting manufactured goods in November, a sign they are investing more in equipment and software. And Americans spent more in November. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic growth.
Manufacturing is getting a boost from the best auto sales in five years. Car sales jumped 13 percent in 2012 to 14.5 million. And Americans spent more at the tail end of the holiday shopping season, boosting overall sales that had slumped earlier in the crucial two-month period.