Friday’s closely watched December unemployment report delivered a mix bag of news. While the unemployment rate was unchanged at 10% (and remains below the 10.8% peak hit in the 1982 recession, one that the current downturn seems to most resemble), employers cut 85,000 jobs from payrolls. That figure dashed hopes that the final month of 2009 would be the first to show jobs being added back to the economy. With more than seven million jobs lost in the last two years, no one was looking for major job creation. But the report contained many depressing numbers, including these:
- The unemployment rate among adult men remained above average at 10.2% (though down from 10.4% in November and 10.6% in October). Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for adult women crept up to 8.2% from 8% in November).
- Teenage, black, and Hispanic unemployment rates remain in the double digits: 27.1%, 16.2% and 12.9% respectively.
- The number of long-term unemployed (out of work for 27 weeks or longer) continued to grow, totaling 6.1 million. That means 4 out of every 10 unemployed workers has been out of work for nearly seven months.
- The number of people working part-time because they can’t find full-time work or their hours were cut back also failed to show improvement, hovering at 9.2 million people.
Still, it wasn’t all bad news. Temporary hiring, typically an early indicator of a turnaround in the job market, continued to add jobs. Since July, employment in the temporary hiring sector has risen by 166,000. The healthcare industry remained a bright spot, adding 22,000 jobs in December for a total of 631,000 since the recession began in December 2007. There were other signs of recovery too:
- Average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers are up 2.2% in the past year and rose again 0.2% in December.
- The estimate that 11,000 jobs were lost in November was revised to a 4,000 gain.
- There were also gains in the professional and business services jobs as well as educational services.
A more hopeful report in December would have given consumers, investors and (most importantly) employers a psychological boost, perhaps making companies more confident about adding workers and diminishing fears of a double-dip recession. But one month is not enough to make a determination about which direction the economy is going. Stay tuned for more data: The first employment situation report of the year will be released Friday, February 5 at 8:30 a.m.
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