By Mark Memmott
The nation's unemployment rate unexpectedly edged down in July, to 9.4% from 9.5% in June, and businesses cut a much-less-severe 247,000 jobs from their payrolls, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported.
According to Bloomberg News, economists had been expecting BLS would say that employers cut 325,000 jobs (less than the 467,000 in June) and that the jobless rate edged up to 9.6% from 9.5% in June.
As the Associated Press notes, "it was a better than expected showing that offered a strong signal that the recession is finally ending."
Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. At the White House a short time ago, President Barack Obama said that a "true recovery" won't be underway until job growth resumes. But, he said the economy is "pointed in the right direction" and that "we've rescued our economy from catastrophe" in part because of the stimulus package he signed into law earlier this year.
Here's audio of the president's complete statement:
Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. More from Planet Money about why the unemployment rate fell:
The labor force is shrinking, in part because some people have given up trying to find work. When the economy starts to pick up steam, ironically, the jobless rate my go up as some of those formerly "discouraged" workers come try to rejoin the labor force.
Update at 10 a.m. ET. White House comment -- watch out for 10%:
NPR's Don Gonyea reports that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs just told reporters that President Barack Obama still believes the jobless rate is likely to rise to 10% before year's end because "it will be quite some time before we see positive, sustained job growth."
Gibbs also said the report "is more evidence that we've pulled back from the edge and away from the brink of a depression, the pace of job loss is declining and that's positive. But no one loses sight that a quarter million people lost their jobs."
"We're moving in the right direction, but we've still got work to do."
"There's no doubt that the economic recovery plan is having an impact."
Update at 9:50 a.m. ET: Planet Money looks at how it's taking longer to find work, and at the slight increase in hourly wages after two flat months.
Update at 9:45 a.m. ET: Digging into the report a bit, it shows that the percentage of "unemployed plus discouraged workers" also edged down last month -- to 9.8% from 10% in June. Discouraged workers, BLS says, "have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job."
Update at 9:10 a.m. ET: While the slight decline in the jobless rate will get lots of attention today, it's worth noting that statistically speaking that's an almost insignificant change. BLS itself writes that "the unemployment rate was little changed."
Update at 9 a.m. ET: According to the AP, this is the first monthly down-tick in the jobless rate in 15 months.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports that:
Since the recession began in December 2007, job loss had been accelerating last year and early this year. The less-than-expected number of jobs lost, though, is in keeping with some recent signs of recovery.
Stock futures traded higher on the news.