Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Employers added a better-than-expected 146,000 jobs in November, providing further evidence of an economy that continues to show resilience despite Superstorm Sandy and budget battles in Washington.
The unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.7% from 7.9% as 350,000 Americans left the labor force, which includes people working and looking for work, the Labor Department said.
Businesses added 147,000 workers, while state, local and federal governments cut 1,000. Retailers, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality led the job gains.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the storm "did not substantively impact" employment in the Northeast.
The government revised down job gains for September and October by a total 49,000. September's additions were revised from 148,000 to 132,000 and October's, from 171,000 to 138,000.
Bloomberg's consensus forecast of economists estimated that non-farm employers added 87,000 jobs last month, with businesses adding 93,000 and state, local and federal governments cutting 6,000. Several economists have said the storm likely reduced job gains by as much as 80,000 to 90,000.
Other barometers of the labor market were mixed. The average workweek in November was unchanged at 34.4 hours for the fifth straight month. As workloads increase, employers typically increase the hours of employees before adding new ones. And average hourly earnings rose four cents to $23.63.
More encouraging was the addition of 18,000 temporary workers. The growth of such contingent workers also tends to foreshadow a pickup in hiring.
The underemployment rate -- a broader measure of joblessness that includes the unemployed as well as part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs and discouraged workers who stopped looking -- dipped to 14.4% from 14.6%. .
And the number of people out of work at least six months fell by 216,000 to 4.8 million. These long-term unemployed still represent 40.1% of all jobless Americans.
Before November, monthly payroll increases had averaged 157,000 this year, with the pace increasing in recent months after slowing in the spring. More than 200,000 additions each month are generally needed to bring down the jobless rate and increase economic growth.
Business leaders say they've reined in hiring and investment in recent months because of uncertainty over the so-called fiscal cliff, the tax increases and spending cuts looming Jan. 1. Economists say they could set off another recession if they all take effect. The economic slowdown in Europe has also dampened exports and revenue in the U.S.
Recent economic reports have been mixed. Manufacturing activity contracted in November but service activity picked up, reports this week showed. Rising home prices have helped buoy consumer confidence and retail sales.