"We haven't hit the cliff yet, but the downdrafts are already occurring," Riccadonna said.

Measures of hiring fell in two surveys released this week by the Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group of purchasing managers. Some companies in the service sector told the ISM that economic uncertainty was delaying hiring.

Another complicating fact is that Thanksgiving came earlier in November than usual this year. That might have led some retailers and restaurants to hire more holiday season staffers in November than is typical, Cummins said. Those jobs would add to last month's job gains.

All the cross-currents could make it hard to gauge the economy's underlying health from the November report.

"This is a particularly bad time for anybody to jump to any business or investment conclusions based on one number," said Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds.

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