The rate was a 0.1 point increase from the initial unemployment figure reported in November that later was revised to 7.8 percent.
The BLS said the bright spots in the economy were in healthcare, food services and drinking establishments, construction and manufacturing, but the number of jobs added was less than economists had predicted.
"While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the woulds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression," said White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger.
Kruerger said the American Taxpayer Relief Act passed this week would reduce the federal deficit by $737 billion over 10 years and help the middle class "as we dig our way out of the deep hole."
The payroll firm Automatic Data Processing said Thursday the U.S. economy had added 215,000 non-farm private sector jobs in December.
The statistics indicate 12.2 million people had jobs last month, little changed from November.
Unemployment among adult women was 7.3 percent; adult men 7.2 percent; blacks 14 percent; whites 6.9 percent; teens 23.5 percent; Hispanics 9.6 percent; and Asians 6.6 percent.
About 4.8 million people -- 39.1 percent of the unemployed -- had been without jobs for 27 weeks or more.
The number of people involuntarily working part-time stood at 7.9 million.
Some 2.6 million people were "marginally attached" to the labor force, meaning they wanted and were available for work but not actively looking.
For the year, job growth averaged 153,000 jobs per month.
Economists had been expected more than 155,000 jobs to be added.
Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi said he had expected "a solid 200,000 gain in payrolls" in the December report.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Economist Jan Hatzius raised his expectation to 200,000 from 175,000 Thursday after the monthly ADP National Employment Report, sponsored by the payroll company and maintained by Macroeconomic Advisers LLC, beat many economists' forecasts and showed private-sector job growth of 215,000.
Other economists cited by The Hill said the rate could rise slightly, especially if more people re-entered the labor force to look for work.