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U.S. Added 266,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment at 3.5%

The health of the manufacturing sector has been somewhat clouded by the 40-day G.M. strike this fall and disruption in the aerospace industry stemming from the crash of two Boeing airplanes. Friday’s report showed a gain of 54,000 jobs in that sector, reversing last month’s losses, but did not signal a significant upturn.

Among businesses, worries about the economy seemed to peak this summer. Since then, there have been signs that the slowdown was diminishing, said Joe Galvin, chief research officer of Vistage, an association of small-business owners and executives.

Roughly 60 percent of the 654 employers surveyed in November by Vistage said they planned to expand head count next year. Just 4 percent are planning cuts.

Since employment gains can bounce unpredictably from month to month, what matters is the underlying trend. So far this year, average monthly payroll gains have buzzed around 170,000. That is less than the average for last year, when tax cuts and government spending helped juice the economy, but it is still strong considering that the expansion is in its 11th year. Average monthly payroll gains for the past three months are now 205,000.

In a newsletter this week, David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, compared recent hiring to squeezing one more glob of toothpaste out of a seemingly empty tube. “Over the last few years,” he said, “an apparently fully tapped-out labor market has yielded a surprising number of new workers.”

The buffet of available job postings has drawn many Americans back to work. Employers have widened their scope, recruiting people with disabilities or criminal records. Older baby boomers are working past retirement age and stay-at-home parents are switching to paid employment.

The labor force participation rate inched up through most of the spring and fall, driven in part by an increase in women 25 to 34 getting jobs or starting to look for work. Over the last year, nearly 1.7 million people joined the ranks of workers.