Economic Index Improves, But Eyes Are On Jobless Claims Rise

Sep 23, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

For as dreary as August was for the weather and investors, it turns out the month may have been a bit better than expected. The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose .3 percent, which was more than the .1 percent a Bloomberg survey of economists expected.

But as we’ve come to expect from the economic news, this morning’s good news was tempered by an unexpected rise in unemployment claims. The Labor Department said this morning that claims rose by 12,000 last week to 465,000. It was the first rise in five weeks.

The market, more spooked by the unemployment rise — and worries about the European economy — than encouraged by The Conference Board’s rising index, reacted by closing down for the day.

In another economic announcement from the government, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 1,546 mass layoffs in August, which resulted in 150,192 workers losing their jobs. That was an increase in almost 6,500 more laid-off workers over July.

The layoff numbers themselves don’t say a whole lot. Since January, the numbers have hovered between 140,000 and 150,000, though they have been as high as 200,870 (April) and as low as 135,789 (May). Compare them to early 2007 when 120,000 to 130,000 was more the norm, and you can see the grip the recession still holds.

While September’s numbers won’t be out for a month, Layoff Watch is full of job-cut announcements, including 1,700 announced by FedEx earlier this week and 3,000 announced Wednesday by Abbott Laboratories. They don’t come anywhere near the BLS numbers because the Bureau considers it a layoff whenever 50 or more workers file an unemployment claim against a company in any five-week period. Many companies don’t announce layoffs that small; some don’t announce layoffs at all.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, meanwhile,  sent out a note this morning pointing out some half-full economic news. The global outplacement firm noted that Macy’s says it will hire 65,000 seasonal holiday workers, expecting sales to grow 3-3.5 percent over last year.  Toys R Us earlier said it expected to hire 10,000 temporary workers for the holiday season.

Predicts Challenger: “Hiring will increase this holiday season over last year, due to two consecutive months of sales gains in addition to a 65 percent decline in retail-sector job cut announcements since 2009.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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