WASHINGTON -- With the viral pandemic accelerating across the country, America's employers sharply scaled back their hiring last month, adding 245,000 jobs, the fewest since April and the fifth-straight monthly slowdown.
At the same time, the unemployment rate fell to a still-high 6.7%, from 6.9% in October, as many people stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed, the Labor Department said. November's job gain was down drastically from a 610,000 gain in October.
Friday's report provided the latest evidence that the job market and economy are faltering in the face of a virus that has been shattering daily records for confirmed infections. Economic activity is likely to slow further with health officials warning against all but essential travel and states and cities limiting gatherings, restricting restaurant dining and reducing the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.
"This is an ugly report," said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton.
Most experts say the economy and job market won't be able to fully recover until the virus can be controlled with an effective and widely used vaccine. And the picture could worsen before it improves.
"The recovery is not insulated from the effects of the pandemic," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at employment website Glassdoor. "This is the calm before the storm. We face a long and difficult winter ahead."
The jobs slowdown surfaces at a particularly fraught time. Two enhanced federal unemployment benefit programs are set to expire at the end of this month -- just as viral cases are surging and colder weather is shutting down outdoor dining and many public events. Unless Congress enacts another rescue aid package, more than 9 million unemployed people will be left without any jobless aid, state or federal, beginning after Christmas.
Renewed efforts in Congress to reach a deal have picked up momentum. A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a $900 billion plan that would include expanded unemployment benefits, more small-business loans and aid to state and local governments. President Donald Trump has voiced support for more financial assistance, though key differences between the two sides remain.
The news focused attention on ongoing deliberations on Capitol Hill over a new round of stimulus aid, with President-elect Joe Biden saying that the situation required "urgent action."
"This is a grim jobs report," Biden said in a statement. "It shows an economy that is stalling. It confirms we remain in the midst of one of the worst economic and jobs crises in modern history."
Before the pandemic, last month's job gain would have been considered healthy. But the U.S. economy is still nearly 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, with a rising proportion of the unemployed describing their jobs as gone for good.
There is also evidence that the pandemic is inflicting long-term damage on millions of workers. People who have been out of work for six months or more -- one definition of long-term unemployment -- now make up 37% of the jobless, the highest such proportion in nearly seven years. The long-term unemployed typically face a harder time finding new jobs.
And the proportion of Americans who are either working or seeking work fell in November, suggesting that many people soured on their prospects for finding a job and stopped looking. That proportion declined to 61.5%, a level that before the pandemic hadn't been seen since the 1970s.
In Columbus, Ohio, Agnes Makokha is unemployed and receiving jobless benefits for the first time in her life. Makokha, 45, lost her job as a human-resources administrator nearly a year ago, well before the pandemic struck. Yet since the virus intensified, it's become much harder for her to find work.
Makokha doesn't have a car. And in April, bus service on her route was temporarily canceled. She struggled to buy groceries, much less look for work. Since then, Makokha has been scraping by with the help of food pantries and unemployment benefits. But those benefits are set to run out Dec. 26.
"I am a little bit scared now about the help coming to an end because I'm not quite sure what's going to happen," Makokha said. "If McDonald's will hire me, I will take that job. If anyone will hire me, I would take the job."
The consequences of the slowdown aren't falling evenly on all Americans. Low-wage industries, like restaurants and bars and retail stores, actually cut jobs last month. And many mothers have been forced to stop working to take care of children who are in school online.
The unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic workers fell much more last month than for whites. Still, the Black unemployment rate was 10.3% and for Hispanics 8.4%, compared with 5.9% for white workers.
FOOD, OTHER EXPENSES
The number of Americans reporting difficulty getting enough to eat has been creeping up, according to Census Bureau data. About 13% of households with children reported being sometimes or often not having enough food to eat. More than 1 in 3 people surveyed recently said that they are having difficulty paying for household expenses.
Friday's jobs report also reflects how the coronavirus has transformed the holiday shopping season. Transportation and warehousing companies added 145,000 jobs in November, more than half the total job gain for the month.
Professional and business services added 60,000 jobs; health care added 46,000 jobs; and construction and manufacturing both added 27,000. Leisure and hospitality, one of the worst-hit sectors of the economy, added back 31,000 jobs, but is still 3.4 million short of where it was in February.
Retail jobs were down 35,000; bars, restaurants and other food-service establishments lost 17,000.
Becky Frankiewicz, president of the temporary staffing firm Manpower Group's North American division, said that roughly 20% of the online job postings in November that her firm tracks were related to warehousing and logistics. Manpower's clients were still interested in hiring last month. But the worsening virus and the uncertainty it brings have made them more cautious.
Frankiewicz summarized their views as: "We are seeing increased demand, we know we have to hire but ... are they going to shut us down again?"
Jon Tigges, who owns a bed-and-breakfast and wedding venue near Leesburg, Va., has lost about two-thirds of his normal wedding events this year, dealing a sharp blow to his bottom line. Out of about 35 part-time workers Tigges had employed before the pandemic, just a handful are likely to work on any given weekend.
"We're hoping there will be another relief bill -- I need another loan to bridge the winter months," he said. "It's going to take me 10 years to dig out of the hole that I'm in."
"We're in an unusual position right now in the economy," said Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at accounting firm Evercore ISI. "Far off in the distance there is sunlight" because of progress on coronavirus vaccines, he said, but until then, "we're going to have a few of the toughest months of this pandemic, and there will be a lot of scars left to heal."
Information for this article was contributed by Christopher Rugaber and Farnoush Amiri of The Associated Press; by Eli Rosenberg of The Washington Post; and by Patricia Cohen of The New York Times.