The U.S. economy gained only about 39,000 jobs in November, far fewer than expected, sending the unemployment rate up two-tenths of a percentage point to 9.8 percent, and putting more pressure on Congress to pass an extension in federal unemployment benefits.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that temporary help services and health care continued to add jobs over the month, while employment fell in the retail trade. Employment in most major industries changed little in November. The number of unemployed individuals was 15.1 million in November.

The White House and congressional Democrats sought to tie the jobs report to the need for extending unemployment benefits. “Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 50,000 in November, lower than expectations, but continuing 11 consecutive months of private sector job growth,” wrote White House Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Austan Goolsbee on the White House blog. “The pace was not enough to prevent the unemployment rate from climbing to 9.8 percent.”

“While the overall trend of economic data over the past two months has been encouraging, today’s numbers underscore the importance of extending expiring tax cuts for the middle class and unemployment insurance for those Americans who have lost their jobs,” he added. “Failure to do this would jeopardize hundreds of thousands of additional jobs, and leave millions of Americans, who are out of work through no fault of their own, on their own.”

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced legislation on Thursday to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. His bill also includes provisions for extending unemployment benefits through 2011 (see Senate Democrats Introduce Middle-Class Tax Cuts Bill). An attempt to pass the unemployment extension failed earlier this week (see Senate Fails to Pass Unemployment Extension). The latest Senate Democratic bill on extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class is expected to be debated Saturday, but its prospects for passage appear to be dim. Republicans have threatened to block the bill until a deal is worked out for extending the tax cuts for those who earn over $250,000 a year. A six-man working group of lawmakers from both parties and Obama administration officials has been meeting to forge a compromise since a White House meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich., also saw his attempt to pass the unemployment extension defeated last month (see House Fails to Pass Unemployment Extension). On Friday, he too emphasized the need to pass the legislation in the wake of the jobs report.

“Today’s news underscores the moral and economic obligation facing Congress right now to extend unemployment benefits for those struggling to find their next job opportunity in this slowly recovering economy,” Levin said in a statement. “With the holiday season upon us, we have an opportunity to prevent millions from further economic distress.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is expected to take over as Speaker of the House in January, emphasized the need to prevent tax hikes in reaction to the jobs report. “Any sign of job growth in this struggling economy is encouraging, but clearly no match for the uncertainty families and small businesses are facing, which is why we must cut spending and stop all the looming tax hikes,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Democratic leaders continue to insist on wasting time with meaningless votes as they try to make it as difficult as possible to stop their job-killing tax hike.”

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