The unemployment rate has taken a surprising jump, climbing to 9.8 percent in November, the highest level in seven months.
Analysts had expected the unemployment rate would stay at 9.6 percent, where it was in October.
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.
The unemployment rate has now been above 9 percent for 19 straight months and remains as the longest stretch on record.
All told, there were 15.1 million people unemployed in November. There was also a record 1.3 million "discouraged" workers in November. Those are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available to them.
Economists say it could take until the end of this decade to reduce the unemployment rate to a more normal 6 percent.
Before the lame-duck Congress adjourns later this month, lawmakers are expected to pass legislation renewing aid to the unemployed.
Extended benefit programs that provide up to 99 weeks of extra aid to the unemployed expired at the end of November because Congress failed to extend them. Nearly 2 million stand to lose unemployment benefits as the holiday arrives.