WASHINGTON - The U.S. unemployment rate slipped to a December 2008 low in November but the job market remains stuck in a grinding crisis, government data released Friday shows.

The Labor Department's monthly jobs report was better than expected, with the jobless rate dropping to 7.7% from 7.9% in October and job growth picking up.

But the decline in the jobless rate was mainly due to people leaving the workforce, the department said.

And the improvement in job growth -- the economy added 146,000 jobs -- came after the department downwardly revised October's initial estimate of 171,000, to 138,000.

The department also cut the September jobs number, slicing 49,000 jobs in total from the two months' gain.

"The November payroll gain was in line with the current trend and suggests the labor market has shown no sizable change in conditions over the last 11 months," Briefing.com analysts said.

The three-month average of 139,000 added jobs remained well below the estimated 250,000 pace needed on a sustained basis to significantly reduce unemployment.

"At the current pace, we would not see the economy returning to full employment for another decade," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Superstorm Sandy, which pummeled the northeastern coast in late October, had less of an effect than expected by analysts, whose average estimate was for the jobless rate to rise to 8% and net jobs to fall to 90,000. The storm "did not substantively impact" the data, the department said.

President Barack Obama's economic adviser said the jobs report provided further evidence the economy was continuing to recover from the severe 2008-2009 recession.

"Over the last 12 months, the unemployment rate has decreased by one percentage point as a result of growing employment, and the labor force participation rate has been essentially unchanged," said Alan Krueger, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

The Labor Department said there was little change in the unemployment numbers in November. The long-term unemployed -- those without jobs for at least 27 weeks -- stood at 4.8 million, 40% of the 12 million unemployed.