NEW YORK, DEC. 3 -- Business continued to slow at the nation's industrial firms in November, extending a decline that is likely to continue for some time, the National Association of Purchasing Management said today.

The purchasing managers said production and new orders both dropped, pushing the group's index of economic activity down to 41.3 percent from 43.4 percent in October. The latest monthly decline was the fifth in a row, sending the index to its lowest point since November 1982, during the last recession.

Alan Levinson, an economist with WEFA Group, a private economic forecasting service in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., said the purchasing managers results "confirm the fact that we are slipping deeper into recession."

Robert Chandross, chief economist with Lloyds Bank PLC in New York, called the survey figures "unambiguously weak" with employment particularly hard-hit.

The survey results substantiated other statistical evidence that the economy's health has worsened, including a Commerce Department report today on construction spending.

The department said spending for new building rose 1.3 percent in October, the first gain in three months. But the advance was largely due to new school and sewer projects. Spending on residential and nonresidential buildings continued to fall.

Overall residential, nonresidential and government spending totaled a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $434.4 billion, up from $428.9 billion in September.

In the purchasing managers survey, 33 percent of those questioned said employment was down at their companies, while 62 percent said it was the same and 5 percent said hiring was up.

In October, 28 percent said employment was down, 63 percent said it was the same and 9 percent said it was higher.

The purchasing managers said many companies reported layoffs, hiring freezes, plant closings and other steps to bring staffing levels in line with business activity.

Employment is tied directly toproduction and new orders, both of which declined.

Forty-three percent of the purchasing managers surveyed said their firms had fewer new orders in November, while 39 percent said orders were the same and only 18 percent said they had more orders.

It was the fifth consecutive monthly decline for new orders, reducing them to their lowest point since May 1982. In October, 34 percent reported fewer orders, 47 percent were the same and 19 percent were up.

Robert Bretz, chairman of the trade group, said the decline in orders was an ominous sign for the economy. "It appears likely the negative trend will continue for some time," he said in a prepared statement.

The National Association of Purchasing Management is a trade group of purchasing executives at industrial companies across the country. Its monthly survey questions purchasing managers at 300 firms.