Unemployment crept up to 9.8 percent after the economy added just 39,000 jobs in November, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics' employment report. One notable finding in the report: The retail trade lost 28,100 jobs in November, with a decline of 14,500 jobs in general merchandise stores leading the way. The November drop in retail employment suggests that sales were inflated by an early holiday season — with stores beginning their hiring in October instead of November. This should dampen the optimism around the relatively good November sales figures released this week.

The data in the establishment survey offer little hope of the labor market improving anytime soon. With perhaps the exception of employment services, which saw modest job growth, there is no sector showing strong growth. Furthermore, average weekly hours actually fell slightly for non-supervisory workers, suggesting the demand for labor might actually be weakening. With house prices again dropping rapidly and additional cutbacks coming at all levels of government, there are no obvious engines of growth in this economy.

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