Retail sales fell a record 3.7% in November, the Commerce Dept. announced today. According to the department, November’s plunge followed a 6.4% upward surge in October, which was also a record.

The worry for the trucking industry is that the nearly 800,000 job layoffs that have occurred in the past two months could trigger sharp cuts in spending and make the current downturn deeper and more severe than the mild recession most economists have been forecasting.

The Commerce Dept. attributed the steep drop to fallout from the September 11 terrorist attacks and the continuing recession.

The October increase was caused by a huge jump in auto sales, as consumers responded eagerly to 0% financing offers that OEMs used to lure shoppers back into showrooms following the attacks. The report showed that auto sales, which had surged 24.2% in October, fell 11.9% in November.

Even without the wide swing in auto sales, retail sales would have been weak last month, dropping by 0.5% following a 0.8% rise excluding autos in October. The retail sales report showed that sales, after adjusting for seasonal variations, totaled $293.6 billion in November.