- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 5, 2009

After months of unrelenting bad news on the jobs front, the employment report for November provided a few nuggets of relatively good news.

The jobless rate dipped to 10 percent in November from 10.2 percent in October, the Labor Department reported Friday. Payroll employment declined for the 23rd month in a row but fell by just 11,000 workers, significantly less than analysts expected. Moreover, the 409,000 jobs that were reported to have been lost during the two previous months were revised sharply downward to 250,000.

Compared with the average of nearly 700,000 jobs lost each month during the first quarter, only 87,000 jobs on average have been lost during each of the past three months.

At the same time, many economists still expect the unemployment rate to hover in the double-digit range through next year.

“Today’s report that the pace of job losses has dramatically abated is the most encouraging in a long time,” agreed Chad Stone, chief economist of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But serious problems remain for unemployed job seekers.”

The Labor Department also provides an alternative rate that gauges the level of underemployment in the economy. In addition to the 15.4 million out-of-work people who have searched for a job during the previous four weeks, the alternative measure includes 9.2 million part-time workers who want full-time employment and 2.3 million jobless people who are available for work but had not looked for employment in the past four weeks.

That underemployment rate was 17.2 percent in November, down from 17.5 percent the previous month.

With the U.S. economy expanding at an annual rate of 2.8 percent during the third quarter, most economists believe the recession ended in July or August. But most economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, have projected that the unemployment rate will remain highly elevated through next year.

Still, the Obama administration trumpeted the positive news. “It’s the best jobs report we’ve seen since 2007,” said President Obama in Allentown, Pa., one day after the White House convened its jobs summit.

“This is good news, just in time for the season of hope,” the president said.

Wall Street was somewhat less enthusiastic. Stocks closed higher Friday but only after giving up much of their earlier gains on expectations that lower unemployment could eventually result in higher interest rates.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished with a gain of just 22.75 points, having been up as much as 151 points earlier. The index closed at 10,388.90 after reaching a 2009 high of 10,516.70 in early trading.

Unemployment last month totaled 15.4 million people, 325,000 fewer than in October. However, 38.3 percent of those out-of-work job seekers - nearly 6 million - have been looking for employment for 27 weeks or longer. That’s a postwar record.

Before the jobless rate surpassed the 10 percent level in October, the U.S. economy had not experienced double-digit unemployment since 1983.

Since the recession began in December 2007, employers have shed 8 million jobs, including an estimated 824,000 job losses that will be incorporated into Labor Department data when the annual revision is released in February.

The unemployment rate for adult men fell by 0.2 of a percentage point to 10.5 percent last month, but it remained well above the jobless rate for adult women, which declined 0.2 percent to 7.9 percent. The jobless rate for teenagers was 26.7 percent, down nearly a point.

Differentiated by race and ethnicity, unemployment rates in November were 9.3 percent for whites, 15.6 percent for blacks and 12.7 percent for people of Hispanic origin.

Construction and manufacturing jobs continued to plummet last month. The construction industry lost 27,000 jobs in November, and manufacturers shed 41,000. Meanwhile, 41,000 jobs were added in the education and health-services sector.

Temporary services, which usually reflect job growth before companies begin sustained hiring of full-time workers, gained 52,000 jobs.

The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees in the private work force edged higher to 33.2 hours from its record low of 33 hours in October. “It is expected that employers will first extend hours before taking on new workers. This is a good first step,” said Sophia Koropeckyj of Moody’s Economy.com.

“The report cannot be dismissed as a seasonally distorted quirk. It is mostly genuine good news,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist of IHS Global Insight, who pointed to the sharp increase in temp jobs and a bump up in the work week. “Although job losses continued in manufacturing and construction, the private-services sector added jobs for the first time since December 2007.”

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