The pace of hiring by U.S. employers eased slightly in December, pointing to a lackluster pace of economic growth that was unable to make further inroads in the country's still high unemployment rate.

Payrolls outside the farming sector grew 155,000 last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. That was in line with analysts' expectations and slightly below the level for November.

Unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 percent.

Gains in employment were distributed broadly throughout the economy, from manufacturing and construction to health care.

COMMENTS:

TOM PORCELLI, CHIEF U.S. ECONOMIST, RBC CAPITAL MARKETS, NEW YORK:

"There was a lot of excitement headed into this jobs report so this number may be disappointing. This shows the economy is chugging along, with payroll gains at about the average it has been over the past year.

"When it comes to Fed policy, this report should keep policy steady. There was talk of a scaling back of QE yesterday, but this number is a snapshot and is basically where it was when the Fed decided to do more QE last month."

TOM DI GALOMA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NAVIGATE ADVISORS LLC, STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT:

"The job's report shows that nothing has truly changed on the economic front. The U.S. economy is just muddling through."

YELENA SHULYATYEVA, U.S. ECONOMIST, BNP PARIBAS, NEW YORK:

"It's basically in line with our GDP forecast that we don't see much of an acceleration or growth in the economy. This was December, companies were very worried about the fiscal cliff, so it's a good number that they were still hiring.

"Participation rate held steady, so it kind of looks like it was stabilizing, it was declining as we know, quite substantially, but it's looking like it's beginning to stabilize."

MARKET REACTION:

STOCKS: U.S. S&P 500 index futures slightly added gains

BONDS: U.S. Treasuries briefly trimmed losses

FOREX: The dollar pared gains versus the euro and yen

GRAPHIC: U.S. nonfarm payrolls: U.S. payrolls grew by 155,000 jobs in December. http://link.reuters.com/ram54t

(Americas Economics and Markets Desk; +1-646 223-6300)