Consumer-focused industries continued to lead job growth, data showed Friday, but renewed pessimism ahead of the year-end "fiscal cliff" deadline could cool future gains.
Payrolls swelled by 146,000 in November, far better than expected, as Superstorm Sandy had no substantive effect, the Labor Department said.
But downward revisions to the prior two months totaled 49,000. The monthly average this year is 151,000, slightly worse than 2011 and barely enough to keep up with population growth.
The unemployment rate slid to a four-year low 7.7% from 7.9%, according to a separate survey of households. A broader underemployment gauge fell to 14.4%.
But those drops were mainly due to 350,000 people leaving the workforce. The labor force participation ratio fell to 63.6% from 63.8%, back near a generational low.
Unemployment would be 11.1% if the participation rate had held at the 66% level at the recession's December 2007 start.
Without fiscal policy uncertainty and Sandy, last month's job growth could've been closer to 200,000, estimated Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics.
He still sees November's broad gains as positive. But with federal deficits and debt limiting potential growth, future hiring like ly will resemble the recent past's.