November 2021 Jobs Report: A Gain of 210,000

The figures, which predate the emergence of the latest coronavirus variant, follow a succession of mixed economic signals.

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U.S. employers added 210,000 jobs in November, a weaker figure than forecast.

Dec. 3, 2021Updated 9:18 a.m. ET

Hiring slowed last month.

Cumulative change in jobs since before the pandemic

-20

-15

-10

-5 mil.

April

June

Sept.

Jan. ’21

April

-3.9 million jobs since Feb. 2020

+18.5 million since April 2020

+210,000
in November

152.5 million jobs in February 2020

Data is seasonally adjusted.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Ella Koeze

The American economy hit a speed bump in November as hiring unexpectedly dipped before the holiday season, a sign that companies are cautious about prospects for growth.

Employers added 210,000 jobs last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported Friday. While the data was collected well before the Omicron variant emerged, the figures underscore the economy’s fragility as the pandemic persists.

Despite the weaker-than-expected number for job growth — economists had forecast a second straight gain of more than 500,000 — the unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent from 4.6 percent.

The monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is based on two separate surveys, one polling households and the other recording hiring among employers. As is the case from time to time, the two surveys painted somewhat different pictures of the economy.

While the data from employers was weaker than forecast, the household survey showed the number of employed Americans jumped by more than 1.1 million. And the overall participation rate, which measures the proportion of Americans who either have jobs or are looking for one, rose by 0.2 percentage point to 61.8 percent. For prime-age workers, 25 to 54 years old, participation rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 81.8 percent.

Prime-age participation in the labor force ticked up slightly.

Share of those ages 25 to 54 who are in the labor force (employed, unemployed but looking for work or on temporary layoff)

74

76

78

80

82

84%

Jan. ’19

Jan. ’20

Jan. ’21

81.8%

Data is seasonally adjusted.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Ella Koeze

Still, the lackluster hiring number was a reminder of the on-again, off-again pattern in the labor market since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. What’s more, job gains in businesses where face-to-face contact is required — like stores, restaurants, bars and hotels — were especially soft.

What to Know About Inflation in the U.S.

The Fastest Inflation in 31 Years: The Consumer Price Index rose 6.2 percent in October from a year earlier, its sharpest increase since 1990.Americans Are Still Spending: Despite inflation concerns, retail sales jumped 1.7 percent in October.Who’s to Blame for Rising Prices?: Here are the most obvious candidates — and where the evidence looks strongest.What the Experts Say: Most agree the spike in prices is linked to the economic recovery. When it will fade, and by how much, are less clear.The Psychology of Inflation: Americans are flush with cash and jobs, but they also think the economy is awful.

Retail employment dropped by 20,000 last month on a seasonally adjusted basis, while hiring in leisure and hospitality industries rose by 23,000, compared to a gain of 170,000 in October. The white-collar sector, which has largely shrugged off the worst effects of the pandemic, remained a source of strength, with a 90,000 jump in employment in professional and business services.

Hiring at factories jumped by 31,000, while transportation and warehousing gained nearly 50,000 workers, an indication of how online commerce ahead of the holidays is picking up speed.

The hospitality sector had a slight gain, but retail lost jobs.

Cumulative change in jobs since before the pandemic, by industry

Leisure and hospitality

-1 mil.

-2

-3

-4

-5

-6

-7

-8

April

Jan. ’21

+23,000
in November

16.9 million jobs in Feb. 2020

Construction

-2

-1 mil.

April

Jan. ’21

+31,000

7.6 million

Retail

-2

-1 mil.

April

Jan. ’21

-20,400

15.6 million

Manufacturing

-2

-1 mil.

April

Jan. ’21

+31,000

12.8 million

Business and professional services

-2

-1 mil.

April

Jan. ’21

+90,000

21.5 million

Education and health

-2

-1 mil.

April

Jan. ’21

+4,000

24.6 million

State and local government

-2

-1 mil.

April

Jan. ’21

-27,000

20 million

Data is seasonally adjusted.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

By Ella Koeze

Throughout the fall, the economy’s path has been characterized by clashing signals.

The “quits rate” — a measurement of workers leaving jobs as a share of overall employment — has been at or near record highs, which suggests that workers are confident they can navigate the labor market to find something better. But the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment dropped to levels not seen since the sluggish recovery from the recession of 2007-9.

The report noted “the growing belief among consumers that no effective policies have yet been developed to reduce the damage from surging inflation.” Shoppers are facing the steepest inflation in 31 years. In October, prices increased 6.2 percent from a year earlier.

Nonetheless, markets remain relatively calm. The major stock indexes are up by impressive levels this year. And bond yields, which tend to move higher in inflationary environments, remain near record lows, indicating that investors don’t see inflation as a longer-term threat to the economy or financial stability.

Understand the Supply Chain Crisis

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Covid’s impact on the supply chain continues. The pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of the global supply chain and made all kinds of products harder to find. In turn, scarcity has caused the prices of many things to go higher as inflation remains stubbornly high.

Almost anything manufactured is in short supply. That includes everything from toilet paper to new cars. The disruptions go back to the beginning of the pandemic, when factories in Asia and Europe were forced to shut down and shipping companies cut their schedules.

First, demand for home goods spiked. Money that Americans once spent on experiences were redirected to things for their homes. The surge clogged the system for transporting goods to the factories that needed them and finished products piled up because of a shortage of shipping containers.

Now, ports are struggling to keep up. In North America and Europe, where containers are arriving, the heavy influx of ships is overwhelming ports. With warehouses full, containers are piling up. The chaos in global shipping is likely to persist as a result of the massive traffic jam.

No one really knows when the crisis will end. Shortages and delays are likely to affect this year’s Christmas and holiday shopping season, but what happens after that is unclear. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said he expects supply chain problems to persist “likely well into next year.”

In recent days, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, has faced pressure from different political camps to focus more tightly on price increases.

Critics of the Fed say the central bank’s “accommodative” bond-buying policies — which have kept borrowing costs low and led to a large and continued increase in the money supply — went on too long and were irresponsible in light of an already aggressive emergency response from Congress. With inflation proving more stubborn than many experts expected, that suite of stimulative monetary policies is now, in the view of Fed detractors, a prime culprit.

Fed officials, including Mr. Powell, still maintain that the price increases mainly reflect pandemic aberrations that will dissipate. But in congressional testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Powell signaled a pivot from revitalizing the economy to keeping a lid on prices.

“The economy is very strong, and inflationary pressures are high,” he said. “It is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases.”

Economists are divided over the potential impact of a winter coronavirus surge. Some say it could cool off the economy, easing inflation, because it could inhibit in-person activities. Others say a new wave could raise prices further by complicating the logistics of supply chains.

John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told The New York Times on Wednesday that the new variant could “mean a somewhat slower rebound overall” yet “increase those inflationary pressures, in those areas that are in high demand.”

For consumers, one potentially positive effect of renewed virus fears is the recent pullback in energy prices, which have risen substantially this year. The spikes have been particularly intense for fuel oil — which is used for industrial and domestic heating — and for crude oil, which directly translates to gasoline prices at the pump.

One cure for increasing prices is for consumers’ take-home pay to keep up with them. And with many businesses eager to attract workers, wages for nonsupervisory workers continued their upward climb. Average hourly earnings were up 8 cents in November, to $31.03, and are 4.8 percent higher than a year ago.

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