US nonfarm payrolls fell by 140,000 in December from the previous month, marking the first decline since April.
The figures, released by the Labor Department on Friday, point to significant drops in the dining and entertainment sectors.
Tighter coronavirus restrictions imposed since November are believed to have prompted more lay-offs.
December's jobless rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent, halting a recovery that lasted seven months.
Unemployment stood at 10.7 million. More than a third have been out of work for over six months.
Meanwhile, US stocks hit new highs on the back of optimism about the coronavirus vaccine roll-out and a fresh round of stimulus measures.
The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden faces the challenge of improving the jobs market, which has been severely hurt by the pandemic.