U.S. manufacturing grew at the fastest pace in two decades in December, raising hopes the troubled sector might soon boost hiring.

Monday's report from the Institute for Supply Management showed its key index expanding more than three percent for the month. The index is based on surveys of hundreds of companies across the country about business activity, hiring and other issues.

Economists hope growth in manufacturing will force business to hire workers to keep up with rising demand. ISM's employment index grew for the second month in a row in December, and experts say that could signal new factory hiring. A government report next Friday is expected to give a clearer picture. Manufacturing has been a weak point in the U.S. job market in the past several years.

A separate government report says the U.S. economy also got a boost from consumer spending in January. Monday's Commerce Department report shows four-tenths of a percent expansion in this crucial area. That was a little slower than the previous month, but experts say it is still a healthy growth rate.

Economists watch consumer spending closely because consumer demand drives most U.S. economic activity.

By many measures, the U.S. economy has recovered from a slump, but job growth has been slower than at this point in previous recoveries.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.