The economy added just 210,000 new jobs in November, far fewer than the half-million expected.
The disappointing news from the survey of establishments published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday showed a loss of momentum in job gains, which had been strong the previous two months.
Still, the news from the separate household survey published in Friday's jobs report was more favorable. It showed the labor force growing and the unemployment rate dropping by 0.4 percentage points to 4.2%, where it was in mid-2017.
"While the November employment report is a mixed bag, attention may gravitate toward the drop in the unemployment rate to 4.2%, mindful that the low point before the pandemic was 3.5%," said Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst. "Also vying for our attention is word that payroll gains clearly disappointed, coming in significantly below expectations."
Friday's report showed job gains in business support services, transportation, construction, and manufacturing. Employment in leisure and entertainment and retail, two categories particularly affected by the pandemic, languished.
Overall, the country is still 3.9 million jobs short of the pre-pandemic peak.
Otherwise, the economic news in recent weeks has been relatively encouraging. Jobless claims, which are a proxy for layoffs, are running at extremely low levels.
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The economy continues to claw its way out of a pandemic-induced slump, but it is still millions of jobs short of its pre-pandemic level. Before COVID-19 hit, the unemployment rate was at an ultra-low 3.5%.
The gradual rebound of the economy ran into a speed bump over the summer when the delta variant of COVID-19 emerged and sent hospitalizations and deaths spiking. The omicron variant of the virus was recently discovered, which the World Health Organization quickly branded a “variant of concern.”
The stock market responded to the omicron variant with its worst single-day decline of 2021, although there has not yet been any evidence that the new strain is more dangerous than previous iterations of COVID-19.
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Still, the country is suffering from rising prices, with inflation clocking in at 6.2% for the year ending in October, nearly 0.5% above predictions and the highest level in three decades. There are also concerns with worker shortages as some businesses struggle to find workers. The price pressures have led Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to say that the central bank will move more quickly toward raising its interest rate target.
Consumer confidence is also down, with the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index falling to 67.4 in early November, from 71.7 in October — a 10-year low.