The U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December as it continued to be battered by the worsening coronavirus crisis.
The Labor Department reported Friday the December jobless rate remained unchanged from the previous month at 6.7%, despite labor market weakness.
December was the first time in eight months the economy shed jobs, a reversal from the 336,000 new jobs added in November.
Friday's report reflects employers' need to make deep job cuts in the hospitality and leisure sectors, which were especially hard hit by coronavirus lockdown measures as COVID-19 infections in the U.S. continued to set new daily records, forcing them to close their businesses again.
The report also shows that more workers lost their jobs in 2020 than in any year since 1939, when the government began tracking unemployment.
The pandemic and related containment measures triggered 22 million job cuts in March and April, while only 12 million new jobs have been added since then.
Faster hiring of people who were laid off during the pandemic-induced recession that began in February would improve the employment picture. But with record numbers of Americans currently being infected and hospitalized, there is no sign of that happening.
Winter's arrival could also discourage spending and job creation, particularly in the restaurant and other sectors that have begun to rely more on business outdoors.
Economists say the economy is unlikely to reenter a recession, due to the government's passage last week of a second coronavirus relief package valued at nearly $900 billion.
President-elect Joe Biden, who Congress formally certified Thursday as the winner of the November 3 presidential election, hours after mobs supportive of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, promised another round of relief in the form of $2,000 stimulus checks if Democrats won two runoff Senate elections in the state of Georgia on Tuesday.
The Democrats narrowly defeated both Republican opponents, boosting the prospects for Biden's legislative agenda when he assumes the presidency on January 20.