The nation's unemployment rate climbed to 9.8 percent in November, a seven-month high, as hiring slowed.
Employers added only 39,000 jobs last month, a sharp decline from the 172,000 created in October, the Labor Department reported Friday. The weakness was widespread. Retailers, factories, construction companies, financial firms and the government all cut jobs last month.
Many economists were predicting the addition of 150,000 jobs. The economy has recently flashed signs of gaining momentum with busier factories, rising auto sales and a good start to the holiday shopping season. But that didn't translate into mass hiring in November.
The report was a reminder that the economic recovery is proceeding more slowly and fitfully than many economists had expected. It is likely to push lawmakers to pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which expired this week.
The disappointing job figures began to cool this week's rally on Wall Street.
"November's U.S. employment report is a painful reality check for those hoping that a meaningful acceleration in economic activity was underway," said Paul Dales, U.S. economist for Capital Economics. "The truth is that the economy is going nowhere at a time when companies are not willing to boost hiring."
Private companies -- the backbone of the economy -- created only 50,000 jobs. That was down significantly from the 160,000 private-sector jobs created in October and was the smallest gain since January.
With hiring so weak, the unemployment rate rose from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent. The jobless rate has now topped 9 percent for 19 straight months, the longest stretch on record.