Jobs Report Shows Disappointing Numbers

The unemployment rate notched up again in June, and the number of new jobs created was far less than what was expected. Payrolls increased by just 18,000 — less than the prior month and way below the level of job creation earlier in the year.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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

Officially, the recession ended two years ago, but that's not reflected in the jobs numbers.

(Soundbite of speech)

President BARACK OBAMA: Our economy as a whole just isn't producing nearly enough jobs for everybody who's looking.

NORRIS: President Obama spoke at the White House this morning after the release of the latest jobs report. It found the unemployment rate went up, not down. It's now 9.2 percent. And the thing economists watch most closely, the payroll number, came in much weaker than expected.

NPR's Tamara Keith explores why job growth is so stagnant.

TAMARA KEITH: Every month, there's this exercise where economists and pundits predict the top-line job creation number in the Labor Department's report. This month, almost everyone said they thought payrolls would grow by 100,000 jobs or more. Then at 8:30 a.m., the number came out. It was low, just 18,000.

Mr. IAN SHEPHERDSON (Chief U.S. Economist, High Frequency Economics): Oh, God, I don't believe it, was pretty much what I thought.

Ms. DIANE SWONK (Chief Economist, Mesirow Financial): It was like getting a kick in the stomach. I mean, to see almost no jobs created in the month of June was just devastating.

KEITH: That was Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics and Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. And their reactions were pretty typical. There's a common refrain in economics - one month does not a trend make. But May's jobs report was also weak. So that's two months. Is that a trend?

Mr. SHEPHERDSON: That's a slowdown. Now, you've got to ask yourself, why would that happen?

KEITH: Shepherdson thinks he knows exactly what happened, and he says everyone should calm down and take a deep breath.

Mr. SHEPHERDSON: What happened in the spring, well, oil prices went up. I mean, that's it. It's as simple as that. Oil prices went up. I don't know why people are looking for these more complicated explanations or these end-of-the-world explanations when the real story is staring them in the face every time they go and fill the tank up.

KEITH: After spiking in the spring, oil prices are back down below $100 a barrel now. There were probably also some residual effects from the Japanese tsunami and the tornados in the Midwest.

Still, Diane Swonk says two tepid months of job creation are a real setback.

Ms. SWONK: The recovery is still extremely fragile. We're still in an uphill battle, and it's going to be that way for some time to come.

KEITH: Dig a little deeper into the report and the picture doesn't get any prettier. Long-term unemployment remains near record highs. A broader measure of unemployment hit 16.2 percent. That measure includes people who want to work but have given up the search and those working part time who want full-time jobs.

The average workweek and the average hourly wage, both fell slightly last month. But it doesn't take a government report for many in the workforce to know things aren't what they used to be.

Ray Meyer of Saint Louis, Missouri, had been unemployed for more than two years when he started working temp jobs back in March.

Mr. RAY MEYER: I just am finding that these temporary jobs that I'm working on tend to treat their temporary employees differently. And I guess because we're disposable.

KEITH: He used to be a regional manager for a bank. Now, he's making about $15 an hour with no benefits and no job security.

Mr. MEYER: If my conviction was strong before to get a permanent job someplace, my conviction now is even more strong if possible.

KEITH: And Meyer has a job. Millions of others still don't.

Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial says we can expect this recovery to be slower and more painful than those in the recent past, because it came out of a financial crisis that's crippled the housing industry. She's still optimistic about the economy long term, but less so than before these two months of stagnant job growth.

Ms. SWONK: Even as we return to more robust job growth, frankly, the hurdles are so low what's robust job growth at this stage of the game. It's not enough to make most Americans feel good about this economy.

KEITH: June was the third month in a row that the unemployment rate rose.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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