By Mark Memmott

Businesses trimmed 20,000 jobs from their payrolls, but the nation's unemployment rate edged down to 9.7% in January from 10% the month before, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported.

We'll add more details from the report shortly.

And we'll watch to see how the financial markets react later in New York. Globally, markets have been in a tizzy over doubts about the "recovery" and worries over some nations' debts.

Planet Money follows the economic news here.

Update at 10:20 a.m. ET: And our friends at Planet Money have now explained why one number -- the jobless rate -- can seem to point in a different direction than the other.

The BLS gets the number of jobs by surveying employers, asking them how many people they have on payroll, while the actual unemployment numbers come from the household survey, which asks people whether they have jobs and are looking.

Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. White House economic adviser Christina Romer just released a statement that says, in part:

While unemployment remains a severe problem, today's employment report contains encouraging signs of gradual labor market healing. The unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point and employment rose in a number of industries, though overall employment fell slightly.

Update at 9:25 a.m. ET: The question always comes up: How could BLS say the jobless rate declined if businesses also cut the number of jobs on their payrolls?

One reason is that those numbers are based on different surveys -- one of people, which generates the unemployment rate, and one of businesses, which generates the "payroll employment" figure. Two different sets of data. Two different looks at the issue.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press notes that:

The department also revised its past employment estimates to show that job losses from the Great Recession have been much worse than previously stated. The economy has shed 8.4 million jobs since the downturn began in December 2007, up from a previous figure of 7.2 million.
That's the most jobs lost in any recession, as a percent of total employment, since World War II.

Update at 9:15 a.m. ET. At the BLS website, you can break apart the data in many different ways and generate all sorts of charts. Here's a look at the nation's jobless rate since the start of 2007 (the recession officially began in December of that year):

The nation's unemployment rate from the start of 2007 through January 2010. BLS.gov.

How the jobless rate has changed the past three years. (BLS.gov/data/)

Update at 8:57 a.m. ET. The Associated Press notes that the jobless rate dipped "because a survey of households found the number of employed Americans rose by 541,000, the Labor Department said."

Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. As often happens with economic data, there's good news and there's bad news in a single report. BLS says:

-- Bad news. "The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) continued to trend up in January, reaching 6.3 million. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of long-term unemployed has risen by 5.0 million."
-- Good news. "The number of persons who worked part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) fell from 9.2 to 8.3 million in January."
-- Bad news. "About 2.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in January, an increase of 409,000 from a year earlier. ... Among the marginally attached, there were 1.1 million discouraged workers in January, up from 734,000 a year earlier."
-- Bad news. About 600,000 more jobs were cut from payrolls last year than previously thought.
-- Good news. In the one month last year when employment went up (November), BLS now estimates there were 64,000 jobs added to payrolls, vs. its earlier estimate of a 4,000-jobs gain.

categories: Business, Economy, National News

8:32 - February 5, 2010