U.S. payrolls rose 18,000 in Dec

WASHINGTON, Jan 4 (Reuters) - U.S. employers added a scant 18,000 jobs in December and the national unemployment rate kicked up to five percent, its highest in more than two years, according to a government report on Friday that underlined the economy’s rapidly slowing momentum.

The Labor Department said December’s pace of job creation was the weakest since August 2003 when 42,000 jobs were cut. It was far below the median estimate of analysts surveyed by Reuters who had forecast that 70,000 non-farm jobs would be added last month.

The unemployment rate jumped to 5 percent, its highest since it matched that rate in November 2005, from 4.7 percent in November.

The department said that for all of 2007, payroll employment growth averaged 111,000 a month, down from 189,000 a month in 2006. President George W. Bush told Reuters in an interview on Thursday that he was considering a stimulus package to shore up a struggling economy but had not made any decisions.

During December, manufacturing industries shed 31,000 jobs and construction businesses cut another 49,000. There were 31,000 more government jobs and 44,000 were added in education and health services but retail industries cut more than 24,000 jobs.

Weekly hours of work were unchanged at 33.8 in December but overtime hours dropped to 3.9 from 4.1 in November. (Reporting by Glenn Somerville, editing by Andrea Ricci)