Stubborn Jobs Rate Pressures Unemployment Benefits
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The news on the jobs front yesterday was sobering and disappointing. The U.S. Labor Department said unemployment rose to 9.8 percent in November and the economy created far fewer jobs than expected. The report puts added pressure on Congress to extend unemployment benefits again and to resolve the lingering dispute over the Bush era tax cuts.
NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI: Hardly anyone saw yesterday's bad news coming. The month before there was a sudden surge in job growth and all the signs were suggesting that the job market was finally gaining momentum.
Economist Ken Goldstein of the Conference Board.
Mr. KEN GOLDSTEIN (Economist): Almost everybody believed November would be another decent - not a great, but a decent month, like October. Surprise.
ZARROLI: The report says the number of jobs created in November was just 39,000, a lot lower than expected. And Goldstein says that was not the only problem.
Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Whether you look at participation, at job growth, hours worked, which didn't go up at all, average hourly pay, which went up one penny in November - I mean, this is just simply a bad report.
ZARROLI: So bad that some economists were questioning yesterday whether it might be something of an outlier.
Bernard Baumohl of the Economic Outlook Group says the numbers are inconsistent with other data that have come out lately, such as rising retail sales and consumer spending.
Mr. BERNARD BAUMOHL (Economic Outlook Group): I don't think it makes sense to focus too much on just one report that suggests that the economy may be actually weaker when we're getting dozens of reports showing that the economy is actually gathering more strength.
ZARROLI: Baumohl says he wouldn't be surprised to see the government revise the numbers upward in coming months. But whatever happens, the jobs report underscores how often this economic downturn has played havoc with conventional economic wisdom.
The Labor Department says more than 15 million people remain out of work and 6.3 million have been out of work for more than six months. They're people like 56-year-old Robert Hall of Las Vegas, who lost his job as a motel manager last April. Today he's scraping by and learning to do without.
Mr. ROBERT HALL: Basically doing the minimal amount of extraneous things, you know, staying tight on money. As far as food goes, you're not going out, you're staying home and reading and watching television.
ZARROLI: White House officials acknowledge that the economy has a long way to go to recover the millions of jobs it's lost since this financial crisis began.
Austan Goolsbee, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers, sounded a familiar refrain after yesterday's report was released.
Mr. AUSTAN GOOLSBEE (President's Council of Economic Advisers): This is the 11th straight month of private sector job growth, but the rate of job growth is not near fast enough. We have to get that up.
ZARROLI: Yesterday's weak jobs report comes at a time when a lame-duck Congress is trying to resolve two especially tough issues. Democrats want to extend unemployment benefits again, but Republicans in Congress say they won't agree to that unless the cost is offset by spending cuts.
Austan Goolsbee says the weak jobs report makes extending benefits more important than ever.
Mr. GOOLSBEE: We're coming out of the deepest recession since 1929. It would really be unprecedented to go cancel the unemployment benefits. And to me that doesn't make sense at this moment.
ZARROLI: For their part, Republicans said the weak report underscores the need to extend the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers. The cuts expire at the end of this year.
President Obama has said for months that he wants to continue the cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans. Until now, the two sides have dug in their heels. The rise in unemployment last month puts new pressure on Congress to try to resolve the issue sooner rather than later.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
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