Todays unemployment numbers

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The following post was written by Neil Bomberg, program director in NLC’s Center on Federal Relations:

November’s unemployment numbers, which were released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, provide further evidence that the economy is continuing to improve after suffering the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

At first glance, last month’s numbers – a decline in the jobless rate from nine to 8.6 percent and a net increase of 120,000 jobs – are reason to celebrate.  When coupled with the fact that the economy has added nearly 3 million jobs over 21 months there is reason to believe that the economy is trending towards the right direction.

Yet despite these numbers, there remains reason for concern.  While the private sector payroll increased by 140,000 in November, the public sector payroll decreased by 20,000 – including 11,000 jobs in the local government sector.  And these job losses place a strain on the economy even if they are offset by private sector job growth.

Moreover, most economists agree that the economy’s improvement is very slow and very fragile and could be undone by economic problems in Europe, and by a failure of Congress to take positive steps to adopt an effective and appropriate jobs package.  And half of the drop in the percent of individuals unemployed from nine to 8.6 percent was due to a decline in the number of people who are considered part of the labor force, something that does not instill confidence.

But there is also good news in the numbers.  Generally at this time of year we expect to see significant job growth in the retail sector, and that certainly was the case in November.   Of the 140,000 private sector jobs created nearly 50,000 were in the retail trade sector, and of that 27,000 were in clothing and clothing accessories stores.  However, 90,000 jobs were created in other sectors including financial services (+8,000), professional and business services (+33,000), and education and health services (+27,000).

So the news from BLS includes some good and some bad news, but at least it can be said that the direction the unemployment and employment numbers are taking are in the right direction.

But it must also be said that from where NLC sits, without a jobs bill that provides adequate stimulus to the economy the growth in the economy will be anemic at best, and stagnant at worst.  It is time for Congress to act by passing a jobs program that puts people to work in important and meaningful jobs.