(NBC NEWS) -- The U.S. economy added 157,000 jobs in January, another baby step forward but not enough to keep the jobless rate from creeping back up to 7.9 percent.

The latest numbers show employers slowly but steadily hired last year, adding an average 180,000 jobs a month.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis says the long-term trend is positive.

"If you look over the last 35 months, we've actually seen more than 5.8 million jobs created," she notes.

The fourth quarter of 2012 was unexpectedly strong, but not strong enough.

It's another sobering reminder that the economy is stuck in low gear.

"I don't think anything fundamental has changed...we're not going anywhere fast until businesses kick in," says Moody's Analytics economist Mark Zandi.

Two days after a report showed the economy contracted slightly in the last quarter, this report was good medicine for Wall Street.

The Dow-Jones Industrial Average hit 14,000 for the first time since October of 2007.

Economists say there is reason to be encouraged by the increase in construction jobs, a sign pointing to long-term investment.

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