Job market begins to show faint signs of life
By Dale McFeatters
The nation's unemployment rate dropped dramatically and unexpectedly last month to 8.6 percent, down from 9 percent, a level at which it had been expected to be stuck for awhile.
That is good news and the White House is entitled, and no doubt relieved, to spin it as such, but pulling back the curtain on the numbers shows an economy that is still stubbornly sluggish and that we have miles to go to return to 2007, our last really good year.
The 8.6 percent figure was the lowest since March 2009, and the "real" unemployment rate ― discouraged workers who have dropped out, part-timers who can't find fulltime work ― fell to 15.6 percent from 16.2 percent, also the lowest since March 2009.
Unfortunately, what makes the unemployment percentage look so much better is that 315,000 workers gave up and quit looking and thus weren't included in the count. If the economy really picks up and they come flocking back to the job market, it will have the perverse effect of increasing the unemployment rate until they all find jobs.
November's improvement was entirely due to the private sector, which added 140,000 jobs, close to the number needed to stay even with job demand from population growth.
But the public sector shed 20,000 jobs last month, bringing the loss in federal, state and local jobs to about half a million for the year. It is an article of faith among conservatives, usually Republican members of Congress who, in fact, hold government jobs, that the government doesn't create jobs. The half million workers who once held them may beg to disagree.
The employment gains for September and October were revised upward by 72,000 jobs, a good sign because the disparity is usually due to late reporting of hiring by small businesses.
However, many key numbers remain grim. There are 13.3 million Americans unemployed. Since February 2008, when the roof really started to fall in on the job market, nearly 8.7 million jobs have disappeared and only 2.5 million have been restored.
Average wages remained flat in November at $23.18 an hour and the duration of unemployment reached a record 40.9 weeks.
But given how bad things have been, the November numbers show that deep within the U.S. economy good things are happening and will continue to improve if Congress and the Europeans don't screw it up.
The writer is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).