President Biden on Friday lauded a surprise decline in the nation's unemployment rate last month, even though hiring severely undershot expectations with November marking the worst month for job creation this year.
The Labor Department reported Friday morning that private businesses and other employers added just 210,000 new jobs in November, well below the 550,000 gain forecast by Refinitiv economists and less than half of October's gain of 546,000 – a troubling sign that hiring slowed even before the emergence of the new omicron coronavirus variant.
But other aspects of the report painted a brighter outlook. The unemployment rate plunged to 4.2% from 4.6% as more than 1.1 million Americans said they found jobs last month. The labor force participation rate increased for the month to 61.8%, its highest level since March 2020.
Biden barely mentioned the headline jobs number during his remarks, instead focusing on the better-than-expected drop in the unemployment rate.
"Today we got the incredible news that our unemployment rate has fallen to 4.2%," he said. "At this point in the year, we’re looking at the sharpest one-year decline in unemployment ever. Simply put, American is back to work and our jobs recovery is going very strong."
The divergence in the unemployment rate and the lackluster November jobs figure reflects two different surveys the Labor Department conducts to put together the final jobs report.
The unemployment rate is calculated from a survey of households, which found that 1.1 million more people reported that they had found a job last month. A separate survey of employers (which includes about 150,000 larger businesses and government agencies) found that just 210,000 jobs were added last month.
Economists expect the two surveys to align more closely.
"We expect that the topline establishment survey will be revised upward over the next two to three months and will look more like what the household survey is showing: the labor market is tightening, and wages are rising in what is the best labor market for workers since the late 1990’s," said Joe Brusuelas, RSM chief economist.
The labor market had been gaining momentum after a delta-induced slowdown over the summer, but the latest figure represents a significant drop from October's upwardly revised number of 546,000 and September's upwardly revised 379,000. There are still about 3.9 million fewer jobs than there were last February, before the crisis began.
"Simply put, America, America is back to work," Biden said. "Because of the extraordinary strides we’ve made, we can look forward to a brighter, happier New Year, in my view."
The president also acknowledged widespread concern about the state of the nation's economy, driven in part by a recent surge of inflation. The government reported last month that prices for consumer goods were at a 31-year high, with the cost of everything from gasoline to groceries to cars soaring.
But Biden said that even accounting for higher prices, American families are doing better than they think.
"Even after accounting for rising prices, the typical American family has more money in their pockets than they did last year," he said.