The US got a better November than some had expected in the job markets — but only in the top line numbers.  The economy added 146,000 jobs, better than expected if still a status quo result, and the jobless rate declined to 7.7%.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Hurricane Sandy ended up having little impact on employment over the month. However, the work force declined again and drifted back to generational-low numbers:

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 146,000 in November, and the unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in retail trade, professional and business services, and health care.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the Northeast coast on October 29th, causing severe damage in some states. Nevertheless, our survey response rates in the affected |states were within normal ranges. Our analysis suggests that Hurricane Sandy did not substantively impact the national employment and unemployment estimates for November.

The unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent in November. The number of unemployed persons, at 12.0 million, changed little. (See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.2 percent), adult women (7.0 percent), teenagers (23.5 percent), whites (6.8 percent), and Hispanics (10.0 percent) showed little or no change in November. The unemployment rate for blacks (13.2 percent) declined over the month. The jobless rate for Asians was 6.4 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier. (See tables A-1, A-2, and A-3.)

The U-6 figure also dropped by two-tenths of a point to 14.4%, its lowest level all year. However, the seasonally-adjusted labor force dropped by 350,000, and the civilian labor force participation rate also dropped two-tenths of a point to 63.6%, almost at the 31-year low hit in August. The employment-population ratio dropped by one-tenth of a percent to 58.7%.

In other words, America isn’t going back to work. Americans are still dropping out of the work force.

Update: The topline number comes from the Establishment Survey, but the Population Survey shows a loss of 122,000 jobs, seasonally adjusted, from October (143,384K to 143,262K).

Update: CNBC’s Jeff Cox is pretty excited by these results:

The U.S. economy created 146,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate slid to 7.7 percent, in a report much better than economists had expected.

Despite the effects from Superstorm Sandy, the jobs engine continued to run, albeit slowly.

But Cox notes the “puzzling contradictions”:

The report had some puzzling contradictions, particularly in its assertion that Sandy “did not substantively impact” the jobs count for November.

Also, the drop in the unemployment rate appeared to reflect a continued exodus of workers from the labor force.

The labor force participation rate, already around 30-year lows, fell further in the month to 63.6 percent.

I’d say that the problems between the two surveys continue to be reflected in the topline numbers.  The bottom line is that a smaller percentage of working-age Americans have jobs and are participating in the workforce, and that’s a big, big problem as we head into the Christmas retail season and the fiscal cliff that will come afterward.