The dismal November jobs report showed a massive slowdown in hiring at restaurants and hotels

A person walks by a sign advertising employment at a fast-food restaurant
A person walks by a sign advertising employment at a fast-food restaurant on November 05, 2021 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • The November jobs report was by no means a stellar one, with a payroll gain of just 210,000.
  • Leisure and hospitality gained a paltry 23,000 jobs after a gain of 170,000 the previous month.
  • People may not be responding to higher wages or bonuses being offered to attract them into the industry. 

The employment situation last month wasn’t what experts expected. 

There were only 210,000 nonfarm payroll jobs added in November, coming in below the median estimate of 550,000 from economists surveyed by Bloomberg. This comes after October’s gain of over half a million, at 546,000.

Employment in leisure and hospitality was struck hard by the pandemic, and has been slowly making its way back. The industry still has a lot of ground to make up; it’s 1.3 million below pre-pandemic employment, as hiring dramatically slowed last month.

After two months of job gains of over 100,000, leisure and hospitality saw a gain of just 23,000. Instead, leading the way in November’s gains was the professional and business services industry, with 90,000 jobs. 

The pandemic may continue to play a role in hiring in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor.

“I think what’s going on here is that the Delta wave is lingering. Even though there has been improvement in the public health situation, cases are still elevated — if not rebounding,” Zhao said. “That has a disproportionate impact on COVID-sensitive industries like leisure and hospitality and retail.” 

But it could also be that people don’t want to work in such a low-wage industry.

Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed, told Insider that while wages have also gone up in an effort to attract workers, “maybe we’re hitting a spot where maybe the enticement of higher wages is either less feasible for the sector or it’s just less attractive to job seekers right now.” But he said we could see this number tick up in December — or revisions for the November numbers could show less of an impact from the Delta variant.

While many industries experienced job gains, retail trade experienced a drop in payrolls. Bunker said it could maybe be a “seasonal adjustment issue.” General merchandise stores and clothing and clothing accessories stores saw the biggest declines among the subsectors that make up retail trade.  

Here’s what gains and losses looked like for different industries:


Transportation and warehousing also saw robust job gains from October to November, with a gain of 49,700. This industry in particular has made its way back to pre-pandemic levels where in August 2021 it was just above it at 0.6%. The industry was 3.6% above February 2020 employment in November 2021.

"I think one of the big questions about the economy and the labor market in general is, are we going to see this relative shift away from goods and towards services?" Bunker said. "The continued strength for transportation and warehousing does suggest that that shift is not happening quite yet, because there's still strong demand for getting goods to customers." 

Despite the bleak report, though, economists like Elise Gould are pointing out that there seem to be two stories. One story comes out of the data from the household survey and the other from the establishment survey.  

Although there were only 210,000 nonfarm payroll gains captured in the establishment survey, the household survey showed an employment gain of 1.1 million. The unemployment rate, which dropped from 4.6% to 4.2%, also comes from the household survey.

"The divergence complicates the picture of the labor market as storm clouds gather from rebounding Delta variant cases and new variant threats," Zhao wrote.

The coronavirus continues to play a role in job gains and the overall recovery for the US. And now, there have been reported cases in the US of the Omicron variant. But Bunker said it's uncertain right now how this variant will play a role in the next job's report.

"The labor market continues to make good progress and that we're still primed for continued strong growth into 2022 with the enormous caveat and asterisk that we're not quite sure what the Omicron variant has in store for us," Bunker said.