Unemployment Drops To 9.1 Percent

Job growth has faltered significantly in recent months. But, according to the Labor Department, there was a slight decrease in unemployment last month, falling to 9.1 percent. At the same time, employers added more new jobs than expected.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. After yesterday's massive market sell-off, the focus today has been the government's monthly jobs report and it came in better that expected. For July, the unemployment rate fell slightly, back to 9.1 percent. Payrolls rose by 117,000. Still, President Obama said today the country has to create more jobs and that will take time.

President BARACK OBAMA: We are going to get through this. Things will get better and we're going to get there together.

BLOCK: NPR's Tamara Keith digs into what today's numbers tell us about the present and the future.

TAMARA KEITH: Leading into this morning's report, the phrase double-dip recession appeared to be coming back into vogue. We were coming off of two straight months of disappointing job creation numbers and last week, learned that in the first half of this year, the economy grew an annual rate of less than 1 percent. It was looking pretty dismal. So when the Labor Department announced more than a 100,000 jobs had been added in July and that the two previous months were getting upward revisions, economists were relieved.

CARL VAN HORN: We have a situation where modestly good news is a sigh of relief.

KEITH: Carl Van Horn is a professor of public policy at Rutgers. He says today's job report is only good news because it's not horrible news.

HORN: It's better to be stuck in a rut than to be going over a cliff.

KEITH: Rut, low gear, a soft patch - whatever you want to call it, Van Horn says the economy isn't generating jobs at the kind of pace that's needed to bring the unemployment rate down significantly or quickly.

HORN: It really is this very slow, slow growth economy just modestly keeping its head above water. And as I said, you know, we're stuck in a rut.

KEITH: The unemployment rate did fall in July to 9.1 percent, down from 9.2 in June. But there's a big asterisk. Nearly 200,000 people dropped out of the labor force. Van Horn says some people are just giving up on finding work.

HORN: They've tried. They've done whatever they could and then they just drop out. And they may be old enough to take Social Security, if they're lucky, or if they're a younger worker, they may just decide that they can live with friends or family, their parents or whatever and they'll try later on.

KEITH: Still, the private sector did add 154,000 jobs in July. And while there were government losses, a large share of those were temporary because of the government shutdown in Minnesota. Health care, retail and manufacturing did the most hiring. Since December 2009, manufacturers have added nearly 300,000 jobs. Steve Schulte's(ph) manufacturing company is one of those hiring.

STEVE SCHULTE: We will have, by the - hopefully, by the next few months, pushing close to 100 people in our production operation. And for our small company, it's a big milestone for us.

KEITH: Schulte is the owner of Porta-King Building Systems in Missouri. The company makes modular buildings that go into factories and it has benefitted from the recent upswing enjoyed by the U.S. auto industry. Schulte says he hired about a dozen people in July alone, a dramatic improvement from this time last year, when he had a skeleton crew and was afraid he would have to do more lay-offs if business didn't pick up.

SCHULTE: It is a great feeling to know that we're back on the road of recovery and running fairly equal to the best year that the company has ever had.

KEITH: But many business owners are still cautious. John Graham is a finance professor at Duke University. Along with CFO magazine, he surveys a large group of CFOs and he says many have plans to pull back on hiring.

JOHN GRAHAM: Think about it. If you had your own company right now, would you want to expand this week or would you want to wait a few weeks to see how some of this stuff settles out. And then, if in a few weeks it'd only gotten a little worse, you're going to continue to wait.

KEITH: In this tough job market, even when there's good news, it's a reminder of how much further there is to go. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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