Friday's report included some discouraging signs. Employers added 49,000 fewer jobs in October and September combined than the government had initially estimated. Monthly job totals come from a survey of 140,000 companies and government agencies, which together employ about 1 in 3 nonfarm workers in the United States.
The unemployment rate, derived from a separate survey of households, fell because 229,000 people without jobs stopped looking for work and so were no longer counted as unemployed.
The household survey asks about 60,000 households whether the adults have jobs and whether those who don't are looking for one. Those without a job who are seeking one are counted as unemployed. Those who aren't looking aren't counted as unemployed.
All told, 12 million people were unemployed in November, about 230,000 fewer than the previous month. That's still many more than the 7.6 million who were out of work when the recession officially began in December 2007.
A broader gauge counts the unemployed, plus part-time workers who want full-time work and people who have given up looking for a job. That total added up to 22.7 million people in November, down from 23 million in October.
Investors appeared pleased with the report. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 81 points.
For now, worries about the cliff have led some companies to cut back on purchases of heavy equipment. Consumers are also signaling concern. A survey of consumer sentiment fell sharply in December, economists noted, partly over worries that taxes could rise next year.
But a resolution of the cliff could accelerate job growth in the construction and manufacturing industries. Those sectors, on average, pay more than the retail and restaurant jobs that have helped drive hiring in recent months and tend to contribute more to economic growth.
Construction workers earned an average of $26 an hour in November. Factory workers averaged $24 an hour. Both far exceed the hourly average of $16.40 for retail employees and about $13.40 for hotel, restaurant and other hospitality workers.