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Job gains push unemployment down to 8.9%; 192K added

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2011

The job market improved significantly last month as employers created 192,000 new jobs, drawing down the nation's unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday morning.

Job openings were in nearly every sector from construction and manufacturing to transportation and office work. Moreover, another 58,000 jobs were created in December and January than previously weren't counted by the department, bringing the total of previously unreported jobs to 250,000.

With more jobs available, the unemployment rate continued to decline dramatically from the nearly 10 percent level that prevailed for most of last year. The rate ticked down to 8.9 percent last month, completing a nearly one percentage point drop just since November.

"Nice job gains," although "still no boom" in the employment market, said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities. Wall Street economists and investors had anticipated a strong employment report based on earlier reports showing sharp reductions in state unemployment claims and growth in services and manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Silvia noted that job growth in the private sector was particularly impressive last month, rising by 222,000. But that was offset somewhat by a 30,000 drop in state and local government jobs as states and cities around the country grapple with soaring debts and deficits. Local governments have shed 377,000 jobs since September 2008.

"The recession may be over, but not for county government," said National Association of Counties President Glen Whitley. "The budget cuts have become increasingly more severe and are affecting more Americans."

He said more budget cuts and job cuts are looming, as states continue to cut their revenue-sharing with local governments and public employers like everyone else are hit by rising costs for energy and increasing demand for services from the unemployed.

But a jobs revival was clearly under way in the nation's vast private sector last month. Construction jobs made a strong comeback, rising by 33,000, after being depressed by severe weather in January.

Manufacturing employment also continued its robust growth with 33,000 new openings last month. Health care added another 34,000 jobs, and new jobs in professional and business services were plentiful at 47,000 last month.

The big drop in the unemployment rate since November partly reflects discouraged job-hunters dropping out of the labor force because they were unable to find jobs, Mr. Silvia said. The share of the population that is participating in the workforce has fallen to 64.2 percent, the lowest since 1984.

Many of these unemployed people have been searching for more than six months and are part of a growing army of long-term unemployed people who have poor prospects because their jobs skills are in dying industries where jobs are no longer available, Mr. Silvia said. Such workers may have to be retrained or relocate to get re-employed.

Heidi Sheirholz, analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, hailed the overall improvement in the labor market.

"The jobs recovery appears to be gaining traction," she said. But people should not get overly optimistic, she said, because some of the gains may have simply reflected a rebound from the depressed job market in January caused by harsh weather.

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