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Jobs Data Boosts Recovery Hopes


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, there was good and surprising news on the employment front. According to the government, the economy shed just 11,000 jobs in November, far fewer than expected. And the unemployment rate edged down from 10.2 percent to exactly 10 percent. But analysts say the nation's job troubles are not over.

NPR's Frank Langfitt explains.

FRANK LANGFITT: When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs numbers this morning, economists were delighted.

Dr. HEIDI SHERHOLZ (Economist, Economic Policy Institute): I was surprised and, you know, I've gradually sort of relaxed into happiness about it.

Mr. JOHN SYLVIA (Chief Economist, Well Fargo): The panic is over in terms of the job market.

Mr. DAVID WEISS (Chief Economist, Standard & Poor's): This was a much stronger employment report than we were expecting.

LANGFITT: That was Heidi Sherholz of the Economic Policy Institute, John Sylvia with Wells Fargo, and David Weiss of Standard & Poor's. In the previous three months, job losses had averaged over 130,000. So, even President Obama was surprised the November figure was so low. Christina Romer, the White House's chief economist, described their exchange.

Ms. CHRISTINA ROMER (Chief Economic Adviser, Obama Administration): When I told the president, he said, you mean a 111,000 job loss. I said, no, it's 11.

LANGFITT: Beyond the headline figure, the report contained other encouraging data. Heidi Sherholz noted that businesses gave workers more hours.

Dr. SHERHOLZ: That is a really crucial signal because what we know is that employers will restore the hours of the work force they have before they hire new workers.

LANGFITT: Temporary employment, another leading indicator of job growth, rose by more than 50,000. David Weiss says one reason job losses are ebbing is because consumers are a bit more optimistic.

Mr. WEISS: Some of this is psychological. The people panic in the beginning of a downturn. We certainly saw that six months ago. Everybody was convinced the world was coming to an end. When they realized that it wasn't, they're out there a little more confident in spending again. But there's also a natural cycle here. You can only run inventories down so far before you got to start producing again. It's the old analogy that, you know, eventually you've got to replace the light bulb and that requires going to the store and buying something.

LANGFITT: The employment numbers are a shot in the arm to the White House. Republicans have criticized President Obama over the dreadful jobs picture. And just yesterday, the White House held a summit to address the unemployment problem. At a town hall meeting in Allentown, Pennsylvania, today, the president touted the November numbers.

President BARACK OBAMA: So, overall, this is the best jobs report that we've seen since 2007.

LANGFITT: Then he tempered it with realism.

Pres. OBAMA: But I do want to keep this in perspective. We've still got a long way to go. I consider one job lost, one job to many.

LANGFITT: The job market has a very long way to go. Since the recession began two years ago, more than seven million jobs have disappeared. Sectors such as manufacturing and construction continue to shrink, and it's taking longer and longer for unemployed people to find new work. Even when jobs begin to grow again, economists expect the unemployment rate will increase. Heidi Sherholz says that's because at first monthly job gains just won't be enough to absorb new workers.

Dr. SHERHOLZ: The population is growing all the time. New babies are being born. There's new graduates being minted. So, unless we're adding roughly 127,000 jobs, the unemployment rate will rise.

LANGFITT: Sherholz says she doesn't expect the job market to really start growing until spring or summer of next year.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.