The Wall Street Journal

2 December  2011

WASHINGTON—The U.S. labor market strengthened in November as private employers continued to add jobs at a healthy pace, while the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since March 2009.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 120,000 last month, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday in its monthly survey of employers. Private companies added 140,000 jobs, while the public sector—federal, state and local governments—lost 20,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, fell to 8.6% in November from 9.0% the previous month. The rate hadn’t been below 9% since March, when it was 8.8%. The rate is now lower than at any point since March 2009, when it was 8.6% as well.

In another positive development, October’s figure for nonfarm payrolls was revised upward to show a gain of 100,000 from a previously reported 80,000, while September was revised up to a 210,000 gain from 158,000.

The results, while confirming the labor market remains sluggish, were broadly positive. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires forecast payrolls would rise by 125,000 last month and that the jobless rate would remain at 9%.

The Labor Department data showed that some industries fared better than others. Retail trade rose by 50,000 jobs, with much of the increase occurring in clothing and electronics and appliance stores, the Labor Department said.

Leisure and hospitality jobs rose by 22,000, and professional and business services registered a gain of 33,000. Health-care jobs rose 17,000, while manufacturing changed little.

The number of unemployed, according to the household survey, fell by 594,000 to 13.3 million. A broader measure that accounts for both job seekers and part-time workers who would prefer to be working full time—the so-called underemployed—fell to 15.6% from 16.2% in October.

The latest figures—the broadest snapshot of the labor market—come fewer than two weeks before the Federal Reserve’s next policy-making meeting. After taking steps in August and September to spur growth, the Fed is expected to pause until next year as it assesses the U.S. economic landscape and follows developments in Europe’s financial crisis.

The jobs data are the latest sign that the economy is on firmer footing than it was just two months ago, when a rocky start to the year spurred fears of a double-dip recession. However, the jobless rate remains high, and threats to the U.S. economic recovery remain, including further turmoil in the euro zone.

Friday’s report shows that Americans’ hourly earnings declined by two cents to $23.18. Wages are up by 1.8% over the past 12 months, trailing overall inflation, which is at 3.6%.