Unemployment Drops On Lowest Job Loss in 2 Years

Dec 4, 2009
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Data Chart for NovRejoice. Do a happy dance. Say “Hallelujah.” Again. “Hallelujah.” The unemployment rate has dropped to 10 percent. Job losses for November were 11,000, the lowest since Dec. 2007, the last month that the number of jobs in the U.S. actually grew.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released November’s jobs numbers a few hours ago, also dramatically scaled back the numbers for September and October. Job losses initially reported for those months — 219,000 and 190,000 respectively — were revised to 139,000 and 111,000.

Economists had been expecting that November’s report would show job losses in the range of 114,000 to 125,000 and an unemployment rate unchanged from October’s 10.2 percent.

The numbers caught them off guard, with many cautioning that a single break in an otherwise unrelenting pattern of triple-digit losses may be a sign of a genuine turnaround. Or it may be just an aberration.

“It is like a patient after having collapsed with a heart attack sitting up and taking a breath—nothing more than that,” Allen L. Sinai, founder of the research firm Decision Economics, told The New York Times. “Things are getting better, but a one-month respite, frankly, means nothing in the context of the worst labor market ever seen since the 1930s.”

Chris Rupkey of Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi was much more optimistic assessing the report for the Wall Street Journal: “We are one step closer today to the stabilization of the labor market. The massive job cuts during the financial crisis last fall were too aggressive and firms will need to rehire staff within the next couple of months.”

Wall Street clearly liked the good news, running up the Dow more than 100 points shortly after the market opened. Most of the early gains were given back as the euphoria subsided, but stocks were still up at midday in New York.

If consumers sensed the improvement last month, they didn’t share their hopes with The Conference Board. The Consumer Confidence Index compiled by the global business research and leadership group and released two weeks ago showed little change from the previous month.

The November index was 49.5, just slightly above October’s 48.7. While consumers generally didn’t think business conditions were worsening, they also didn’t believe jobs would become more plentiful in the months ahead.

The Monster Index, released Thursday, showed little change from October. The Index measures the availability of jobs posted online. The Index declined one point from October to November.

However, another measure of online jobs posting, The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Online Data Series, showed an increase in the number of new jobs posted online, the first increase since August.

BLS logoThe BLS reported that manufacturing and construction were the biggest losers, shedding a combined 68,000 jobs. Another 17,000 jobs were lost in IT, with telecommunications responsible for 9,000 of the jobs.

The losses were largely offset by gains in the service sector where hiring for temporary help jumped by 52,000. Healthcare, the only sector that has consistently grown jobs during the recession, added another 21,000 jobs.

In a sign that the jobs improvement has legs, the BLS said the average workweek increased by .2 hours. It’s now at 33.2 hours for production and nonsupervisory workers.

Even with the decline in the unemployment rate, the number of Americans not working or working at part-time jobs because they can’t find anything else or so discouraged they have stopped looking for work came to 26.9 million. Of that number, 15.4 million were unemployed in November. The number of long-term unemployed — those unemployed for more than 27 weeks — rose to 5.9 million.

Those workers may have a tough time finding work, even if companies begin to again add jobs. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told a Senate committee considering his appointment to a second term that the unemployment rate won’t change much next year.

The Wall Street Journal, citing minutes of the Fed’s early November meeting, said government economists expect unemployment to hover above 9 percent a year from now and decline to somewhere above 8 percent in 2011.

for production and nonsupervisory workers
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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