The U.S. capped its best year for hiring in 15 years with a healthy job gain in December and the unemployment rate falling to a six-year low. The data adds to signs of strength that contrast with sputtering global growth.

The Labor Department says employers added 252,000 jobs last month and 50,000 more in October and November combined than previously estimated. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent from 5.8 percent and is at the lowest level since June 2008.

Yet wage growth remains weak. Average hourly pay slipped 5 cents. And the unemployment rate fell partly because many of the unemployed gave up looking for work. The government doesn't count people as unemployed if they aren't searching for jobs.