Unemployment rate dips to 6.7% as employers add 245,000 jobs last month

The latest government jobs report sheds light on how the recovery is faring.

U.S. employers added 245,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate slipped to 6.7%, the Department of Labor said Friday.

The fresh economic data shows the labor market clawing its way out of the pandemic-induced downturn, but still far away from a full recovery. The unemployment rate in the U.S. was 3.5% in February before the crisis hit.

"Given that we’re still 10 million jobs in the hole, ideally we’d want to see a million or 2 million people returning to work in a month," Julia Pollak, a labor economist at jobs site ZipRecruiter, told ABC News ahead of Friday's report, referring to the number of jobs lost early in the pandemic that still haven't come back.

There were notable job gains last month: In transportation and warehousing (which rose by 145,000 jobs last month), professional and business services (an uptick of 60,000 jobs), and health care (which added 46,000 jobs).

"These improvements in the labor market reflect the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it," the DOL said. "However, the pace of improvement in the labor market has moderated in recent months."

Construction also gained a notable 27,000 jobs last month, but employment is still 279,000 jobs below its February levels.

Job losses occurred in government employment (which decreased by 99,000) and retail trade (which lost 35,000 jobs), according to the government data.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecasted a gain of 460,000 jobs last month.

Pollak said the economy typically adds a large number of jobs in November due to seasonal hiring, but this year many positions may not be available.

"We saw 18% fewer holiday job postings this year, largely just because it was such a strange year, and typically those job openings are in brick-and-mortar retail and in hospitality," she said.

The unemployment rate for men was 6.7% in November compared to 6.1% for women, according to the government. Broken down by racial groups, it was 5.9% for white workers, 10.3% for Black workers, 8.4% for Hispanic workers and 6.7% for Asian workers.

While not accounted for in unemployment data, Pollak said women have bore the brunt of leaving the workforce amid the pandemic -- an exodus largely due to school closures and disproportionate child care duties.

Approximately nine months into the crisis, Pollak said her chief concern for the recovery is long-term unemployment.

"The median length of unemployment before the crisis was nine weeks; it’s now more than 19 weeks," she said. "I worry that the people who have been unemployed for months, since this crisis began, will have a difficult time finding jobs and the effects of that can last for years."

People at lower income levels who were already just scraping by are the group most likely to be impacted by the new trend of long-term unemployment, Pollak added.

The recent positive vaccine news have also created a lot of optimism in the private sector and Pollak said there is "a lot of eagerness" to get back to hiring.

Still, the majority of people who are unemployed now need immediate assistance. Lawmakers, however, have struggled for months to reach an agreement on new stimulus measures to bridge the gap until the economy can safely reopen.

"What I'm worried about is the bridge won't be quite long enough to take people from here to there, from this moment to the end of the pandemic, which is sitting right there almost in grasp," Pollak said.

"The temporary disruption is really clear; it's been really stark, it's been the deepest, broadest ever in modern economic history," she added of the COVID-19 economic downturn. "The hope is just that we find ways to make that temporary disruption stay temporary and avoid it becoming permanent."