Jobs Report Better Than Expected

Employers added 103,000 jobs in September, a stronger pace of hiring than expected. The Labor Department report is likely to ease fears that the economy is quickly hurtling toward another recession. But the jobless rate remained stuck at 9.1 percent. Hiring must pick up substantially for optimism and hope to return to the economy.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

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And I'm Melissa Block. A new jobs report today offers a glimmer of hope for the struggling economy. The Department of Labor says employers added 103,000 new jobs in September. That was enough to beat economists' forecasts, but it wasn't enough to change the unemployment rate. For the third month in a row, the jobless rate is stuck at 9.1 percent. NPR's Sonari Glinton explains that businesses, especially small ones, are still cautious about hiring.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Whew - that's pretty much the sentiment of economists who wait for the unemployment numbers to come out each month.

MARK VITNER: Well, I think our initial response is a huge sigh of relief.

GLINTON: That's how Mark Vitner felt. He's senior economist at Wells Fargo.

VITNER: There's been a lot of concern that maybe the economy was gonna slide back into a second recession and this should take some of those fears out.

GLINTON: The sectors that gained were construction, health care, and retail. The numbers were also helped by 45,000 Verizon workers who went back on the job after a strike. Meanwhile, manufacturing took a dip for the second month in a row. Vitner says, though, this is no time for a party.

VITNER: There is little sign that the conditions are improving for the long-term unemployed. The average duration of unemployment rose to 40.5 weeks. And I look at that number and I think back over my lifetime, I never thought I would see a number that high.

GLINTON: Also today, PNC Financial Services released a survey that says 4 out of 5 small businesses will reduce or maintain their number of full-time employees over the next six months. Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels has about 70 employees on Chicago's near west side. Kim Holstein is the CEO of the company. Her husband, Scott, is the president. Kim Holstein shows me the pretzel line.

KIM HOLSTEIN: Well, right now, what we've done is these are our fully baked pretzels and they're actually putting them on the line to pack them into two packs. And we put them in our boxes to send over to grocery stores in the frozen aisle.

GLINTON: Their pretzels can be found all over the country. Kim Holstein says, as winter approaches, her business picks up. She's gonna be hiring. But in a normal year, they may have added 20 workers. This winter, there will be more like 10.

HOLSTEIN: We have to be smart and careful. We have to make, you know, smart decisions where we're really conscious of, you know, do we have the business to hire these people? We don't want to hire a bunch of people and then lay them off.

GLINTON: Holstein's husband, Scott, says they've had to get creative.

SCOTT HOLSTEIN: Well, we've - there are three senior positions that in the last year or six months, we switched from salaried employees, full-time, over to consultants. So the same person who was working full-time is now a consultant for us, working part-time.

GLINTON: So what would make the Holsteins add more workers?

HOLSTEIN: Demand really drives the hiring. So if we're just gonna get a discount in, say, employment taxes, that's not necessarily an incentive. I mean, it's a little bit - it's nice, but it's not gonna make us hire somebody. What makes us hire somebody is demand, you know, is needing to make more product.

GLINTON: Sean Harrington owns two bars in downtown Detroit. They're in about the best location for bars in Detroit, especially now. They're throwing distance from the stadium where the Tigers will play for baseball's American League Championship and the other stadium where football's Lions are undefeated. Harrington says, things are good, but...

SEAN HARRINGTON: In the businesses that we have right now, we're not adding anybody. We're just - if we lose somebody, we pick somebody else up. We're holding steady.

GLINTON: Harrington is 43. He's owned bars and restaurants in Detroit for almost 20 years. He says he's learned a pretty important lesson in these last few years - stay lean.

HARRINGTON: If all of a sudden, the cloud lifted on the economy and the European economy, the Greeks got their act together and all of the economies got better all over, I don't know if I would do things that much differently.

GLINTON: Harrington says he'll have to see a lot of customers in the seats for a long time before he goes on a hiring spree. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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