WASHINGTON - Home construction nudged up in November after two months of declines.

Builders broke ground last month on a seasonally adjusted 555,000 units, a 3.9 percent rise from October, the Commerce Department reported yesterday.

Even with the gain, housing starts are just 16 percent above the 477,000 unit pace from April 2009 - the lowest point on records dating back to 1959.

And they are down 76 percent from their peak in January 2006, and 45 percent below the 1 million annual rate that analysts say is consistent with a healthy housing market.

All the activity last month came from building single-family homes. They increased to a pace of 465,000 units, a 6.9 percent rise from October. Apartment construction fell 9.1 percent to a unit pace of 90,000.

Housing permits, a barometer of future demand, fell 4 percent to an annualized rate of 530,000, reflecting weakness in apartment construction. It marked the lowest level in permits since April 2009.

More than a year after the recession ended, the housing market is struggling.

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday cited that as a reason it decided to stick with a $600 billion Treasury bond-buying program intended to bolster the economy.

Americans are trying to repair personal finances, battered by the recession. So they aren't in a rush to make big-ticket financial commitments and buy homes. Plus loans are still hard to come by. A wave of home foreclosures is keeping home prices down. That's good for would-be buyers, but not for builders.

The weak housing market is one of the negative forces confronting a slowly improving economy. So is high unemployment, now at 9.8 percent.

Each new home built creates, on average, the equivalent of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.