By Nathalie Voit

The U.S. economy added just 210,000 jobs in November, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released Dec. 3 revealed. The figures were far below economist expectations, which had predicted a gain of 550,000. The disappointing November jobs report, compounded with news of the newly identified Omicron variant of COVID-19, sent stocks on Wall Street tumbling early Friday morning. 

According to BLS data, total nonfarm payroll employment in November rose by 210,000, the smallest jobs gain since December 2020. In turn, payrolls in September and October increased by an upwardly revised 379,000 and 546,000, respectively. 

Analysts predicted over double the number of jobs created last month, following strong job growth in the last two months. Instead, the smaller-than-expected employment gains in November were more reminiscent of the pre-pandemic economy, CNN reported

However, Friday’s numbers were not all bad news. In November, the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage points to 4.2%, the new pandemic-era low. Additionally, the labor force participation rate increased to its highest level since the beginning of the public health crisis, topping 61.8%.

“BLS revisions to job growth in recent months have been upward, and much larger than normal,” said PNC Chief Economist Gus Faucher regarding the report. “Thus, the slowing in job growth in November should not be taken at face value.”

The decline in unemployment coupled with the increase in participation is “unalloyed good news,” Faucher added.

Other experts are similarly warning against any premature judgment of the data. November’s payroll report, while initially disappointing, should be placed in perspective, a senior White House official reminded CNN.

“You’ve gotta get under the hood of these high frequency monthly reports. We focus on the averages over numerous months.”

Monthly job gains so far have averaged 555,000 in 2021. 

However, the return of a new and more contagious strain of COVID-19 now threatens to unravel any momentum the labor market had picked up after a delta-induced slump over the summer. 

“Today’s employment report is doubly disappointing, because the reference week occurred just as it looked like Covid was on the retreat,” said University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers. “This was a moment for people to return to malls and to return to work. The COVID-related news has only gotten worse since then.”

A full transcript of the report can be found here