November Unemployment Rate Drops to 4.2%, Hits Lowest Level Since March of 2020

A waiter wearing a medical mask and cleaning a table in a restaurant with a spray bottle and cloth.

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Here's the latest on the national unemployment picture.

Key points

  • November's national jobless rate fell to 4.2%.
  • Total nonfarm jobs rose by only 210,000, well below estimates.

When the coronavirus outbreak hit U.S. soil back in the winter of 2020, the economy took an instant hit. By April 2020, the national jobless rate had soared to 14.7%, leaving millions of Americans out of work with few options for paying their bills.

Thankfully, lawmakers acted quickly with stimulus aid, including boosted unemployment benefits and direct checks. But that aid is now long gone.

There's a good reason for that, though. Over the past number of months, the unemployment situation has improved dramatically. In November, the national jobless rate fell to just 4.2%. By comparison, back in March 2020, the jobless rate sat at 4.4%, so this is actually the lowest unemployment level on record since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

The jobs news isn’t all good

Though the national unemployment rate fell substantially in November, the news wasn't all good. Last month, only 210,000 nonfarm jobs were added to the economy. That's well below the 573,000 new jobs economists were expecting to see.

A big reason for that shortfall stems from the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and hotels and has been notably hard-hit in the course of the pandemic. That industry saw a gain of just 23,000 jobs in November. And while the sector has restored almost 7 million of the jobs that were shed since March 2020, employment in the industry is still at 1.3 million below pre-pandemic levels.

Still, it's clear the economy is in much better shape these days than it was earlier in the year. In fact, there are so many available jobs that some companies are going above and beyond in an effort to attract talent. That includes raising wages and offering sign-on bonuses to new employees.

Does dropping unemployment mean no more stimulus aid?

Based on our current economic picture, it's pretty hard to make the case for additional stimulus aid. It's common for lawmakers to decide to boost unemployment benefits when jobless levels are high across the board. But since that's not the case right now, workers who are on unemployment shouldn't expect an increase in their weekly benefit payments anytime soon.

The same applies to stimulus checks. For months, many Americans have been holding out hope that a fourth stimulus payment will hit their bank accounts. But that doesn't seem likely in the near term given the state of the economy.

Of course, it's too soon to know if the newly discovered omicron variant will result in an economic setback. If that were to happen, Americans could be in line for another round of direct aid. But that's not a scenario anyone should hope for.

Though another direct stimulus payment may be a nice thing to have (and could definitely help some people combat recent inflation), ultimately, a thriving economy will better serve Americans on a whole. And right now, the fact that things are looking up from a joblessness standpoint is something worth being happy about.

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