The Obama administration says the latest U.S. jobs figures showing a rise in unemployment underscore the need to extend expiring tax cuts for middle class Americans, and continue support for the unemployed. Administration reaction came as a majority of members of a presidential commission supported recommendations on bringing down the federal deficit, but did not achieve the number of votes required to formally endorse it.
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Unemployment climbed two tenths of a percent, to 9.8 percent, as employers added only 39,000 jobs in the month of November, a sharp decline from the 172,000 jobs created in October.
That was far below predictions by economists who said as many as 150,000 jobs could have been added amid recent positive signs for the economy, which helped boost results on Wall Street this week.
It's the 19th straight month that unemployment has exceeded 9 percent, translating to 15.1 million Americans out of work in the month of November.
Behind the top line jobless figure is continuing "underemployment", people working part time but still seeking full-time work. That remained unchanged from October, but 1.3 million Americans are classified as "discouraged", meaning they have stopped seeking work.
President Barack Obama was due to make a statement on the jobs numbers, but made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to meet with U.S. troops and confer with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.
Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, noted that private sector jobs increased by 50,000 in November, but this was not sufficient to prevent overall unemployment from rising.
He said this underscores the importance of extending expiring tax cuts for the middle class and unemployment compensation for Americans who have lost jobs.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke to reporters at the White House. "While we have made progress creating jobs, it is clearly not enough," he said.
As the administration reacted to the jobs figures, an 18-member commission President Obama appointed to study ways to bring down the federal budget deficit and national debt approved recommendations that would slash the deficit by $3.9 trillion over the next decade.
But the 11 to 7 vote fell short of the number needed under the panel rules to formally prompt action by the U.S. Congress.
Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky was among those voting against the recommendations, saying they threaten middle class Americans. "These recommendations ask those who have already been sacrificing who are sacrificing now, to further sacrifice, those who have not enjoyed the prosperity party over the last many years are being asked to pick up too much of the tab," she said.
Despite the lack of formal endorsement, President Obama and congressional leaders will still have to find a way to deal with the commission's findings.
Commission co-chairman Erskine Bowles said the recommendations are only a first step in a necessary process of making tough choices. "Please, I really am pleading with you, please make the tough choices. Reduce spending," he said.
Obama administration official, meanwhile, and members of Congress continue negotiations for a compromise solution on extending Bush-era tax cuts which expire at the end of the month.