Like a beat-up truck on its last legs, the nation's economic recovery is all stop-and-go, one month lurching forward, the next month grinding to a halt. After a few autumn months of modest yet encouraging gains, the economy faltered again in November, according to the latest monthly report from the Department of Labor.
The headline unemployment rate ticked up to 9.8 percent, from 9.6 percent in October. The economy added just 39,000 jobs last month—a disappointment considering that economists had predicted gains of 130,000. The number of unemployed Americans remains historically high, at 15.1 million, and the ranks of those out of work for six months or more, the crippling "long-term unemployment" I chronicled in detail here, held steady at 6.3 million, or 42 percent of all unemployed workers. And there were 1.3 million "discouraged" workers—jobless people who've stopping looking for work altogether—in November, an increase of 421,000 from last year.
The most complete look at unemployment—the "U-6" rate, which lumps together nearly all types of unemployment—held at 17 percent. Put another way, today there are still nearly 5 unemployed workers for every one job opening.
A few slivers of good news: The Labor Department revised upward its previous jobs figures for September, from 41,000 lost to 24,000 lost, and for October, from 151,000 to 172,000. So the economy gained 38,000 more jobs in those two months than originally thought.
Of course, even with these revisions, the jobs gains of the last three months—and, indeed, the entire year—are nowhere near what we need to fill a jobs deficit of 10 million jobs—that is, what employment would look like today had the economic crisis not happened. The economy needs to add about 300,000 jobs every month to begin filling that deficit. And what Friday's figures show is that a real economic recovery—not the two steps forward, one step back kind we're now going through—remains months, if not years, away.