By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 12:46 PM
After three months of holding steady, the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in November, with payroll employment showing little growth, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
The jump is another sign of weakness in the nation's economic recovery. The monthly report dashed the expectations of economists, many of whom had predicted much more robust job growth.
Instead, while nonfarm payroll employment climbed 172,000 in October, the report said, it rose by only 39,000 in November.
The news also punctures some of the optimism that had been building because of other recent positive signs in the economy: Pending home sales jumped a surprising 10 percent; sales by U.S. automakers climbed by double-digit percentages; and many of the nation's largest retailers reported better-than-expected sales last month.
Nevertheless, the unemployment report depicted an economy that was faltering, even weakening in its ability to add jobs.
Some of the biggest job gains were in health care. The unemployment rate among adults with a high school education or less is double or triple that for workers with a bachelor's degree.
The slowdown in job growth suggests that it could be more than a year before the unemployment rate dips back down to relatively normal levels. More than 15 million people remain unemployed.
"The lesson the last year has been the increasing dichotomy between the jobless and those who have been able to hang onto their jobs," said Brookings Senior Fellow Gary Burtless. He noted that for employed workers, real weekly earnings increased 2.3 percent.
"Those are not terrible numbers, Burtless said. "That's even pretty good by post war standards."
The Social Security Administration estimates the United States will have to add at least 200,000 jobs a month to push unemployment below 8 percent by 2012, assuming that the rate of people joining the workforce remains steady.
In a post on the White House blog, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, linked the jobs report to the Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment insurance.
"Today's numbers underscore the importance of extending expiring tax cuts for the middle class and unemployment insurance for those Americans who have lost their jobs. Failure to do this would jeopardize hundreds of thousands of additional jobs, and leave millions of Americans, who are out of work through no fault of their own, on their own."
Democratic lawmakers have been working to extend unemployment insurance into 2011, but Republicans are demanding spending cuts to offset costs. Without congressional approval, unemployment benefits will run out for 2 million people in December, and several million more will lose them in the coming months.