"Happy holidays" and a "Christmas miracle." Those are among the sunny phrases being used to describe the November jobs report. On Friday, the Department of Labor announced that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent last month, and that the economy added 120,000 new jobs in November. But, as always, it's not all good news. Here, five takeaways from the report:
1. The unemployment rate is at a two-year low
The unemployment rate, which was 9 percent in October, fell to 8.6 percent — the lowest it's been since March 2009. That's "a remarkable drop down to a two-year-low after a year in which the percentage of unemployed hardly ever budged," says Andrew Leonard at Salon. The U-6, a broader measure of unemployment that counts part-time workers and those who have given up looking for a job, also dropped — from 16.2 percent to 15.6 percent. "We are blown away from the solid tone of the incoming U.S. data," says economist David Rosenberg. "If this persists into Q1, then the recession call is off the table."
2. But that's not necessarily a good thing
The fact that the unemployment rate dropped a whopping 0.4 percent on a gain of just 120,000 jobs signals that many Americans have simply given up looking for work, says Leonard. In November, 350,000 people dropped out of the labor force, and when the potential workforce shrinks, it takes fewer new jobs to lower the unemployment rate. "A truly positive unemployment number for December might be one in which the unemployment rate rises — if there is a substantial increase in the number of Americans who start looking for work again, that could mean real labor market positive momentum."
3. Many of the new jobs don't pay well
Nearly 50,000 of the new jobs were in retail, says Don Lee in the Los Angeles Times. That's "the second strongest November hiring by stores in a decade." (The Labor Department adjusts its numbers for seasonal trends, so this hiring boom isn't necessarily holiday-related.) The leisure and hospitality sector added 22,000 jobs, while another "lower-paying sector," temporary help, also accounted for much of the job growth. Meanwhile, manufacturing remains stagnant, and 20,000 jobs in the public sector were slashed in November.
4. The economy is slowly improving
This report "comes on the heels of other data suggesting a strengthening of the economy," says Lee. "Consumer spending, manufacturing and exports, and business investment and confidence all have edged higher since summer — despite significant concerns about the European debt crisis, the still-moribund American housing market, government cutbacks and political paralysis in Washington." Perhaps most encouraging, Friday's report also revised the numbers from September and October, noting that 72,000 more jobs than initially thought were added in those two months.
5. But then again...
"Of course, it's not all good news," says Aliyah Shahid in the New York Daily News. Over the last three months, the economy has added a monthly average of 114,000 net jobs. That's "barely enough to keep up with the population growth." Clearly, "the labor market still has a long way to go to recover from the financial crisis," says Annalyn Censky at CNN Money. "Less than a third of all the 8.8 million jobs shed have since been recovered. A whopping 13.3 million people remain unemployed and 43 percent of those have been out of work for more than six months."