Jobless Rate 9.8 Percent, 263,000 Jobs Cut

The government's closely-watched monthly employment report came out Friday morning, and it was disappointing. Employers cut 263,000 jobs in September. That pushed the overall unemployment rate up to 9.8 percent from 9.7 the previous month. Economists already are talking about the possibility of a "doube dip" recession, where the economy drops back to negative territory.

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Steve Inskeep, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Good morning. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

And we have another look, this morning, at what's often called a lagging indicator on the economy. The economy may be starting to recover but the job market is not. The unemployment rate ticked up again today, to 9.8 percent.

NPR's labor reporter, Frank Langfitt, is in our studios. Frank, Good morning.

FRANK LANGFITT: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the jobs report tell us beyond that raw number?

LANGFITT: Well, I've been talking to economists this morning and poring over the data. And what a lot of people think is we're looking at what they call a jobless recovery. And that means that even - as you were just pointing out - as the economy improves, most economists think that there won't be meaningful hiring for probably many months. One economist I talked to this morning said it could be until next - sometime in spring next year that we will really see jobs begin to pick up.

INSKEEP: So what are the implications of these for people who are worried about their jobs or looking for a job?

LANGFITT: I think it's huge. We have more than 15 million people out of work right now. And what this report says is there's no relief in sight. There's no job sector that looks like it's going to come to the rescue. Also, keep in mind, right now, if you are out of work the odds of getting a job are worse than they've been in a really long time. We have six unemployed workers for every job opening. And the number of people who are unemployed now, for more than six months - it keeps growing. So it means, in real terms, some people may have to start thinking about moving, maybe changing careers.

INSKEEP: Why aren't employers hiring if people think the economy is starting to recover and companies certainly want to be in position for that?

LANGFITT: Number of reasons: anxiety, uncertainty. They're not sure that this is going to a strong recovery. Another thing is that companies have really restructured during this recession. They've cut hours and payrolls. They've become a lot more efficient. We always hear that old saw, doing more with less. But that is what they're doing. I was talking to some chief financial officers, yesterday, and they said they don't feel like they have to go back quickly to this old staffing levels. The first thing they're going to do instead of hiring is give more hours, maybe, back to existing workers. But they're not even doing that now. If you look at this report, the average hourly work week was actually down.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're not even getting overtime out of this for people at this point?

LANGFITT: No.

INSKEEP: Fifteen million people out of work and other people not working a lot of overtime, a lot of underemployed people, cannot be good for consumer spending.

LANGFITT: No, not at all. And it's vicious cycle. I mean, this is all related. Right now, a lot of us are not very confident of this recovery. We're worried about where our income is going to come. And last month, there was a little bit of good sign. We saw consumer spending pick up. Part of that was the Cash for Clunkers buying. But people are still watching their budgets very closely. And in an economy that's fueled 70 percent by consumer spending, that's a real problem. There doesn't seem to be, right now, enough consumer spending to really drive job growth.

INSKEEP: Hard to believe I'm asking this, given that we haven't even confirmed that recovery has begun and yet people are already talking about the possibility of a double dip recession.

LANGFITT: They are. And what that would mean is that we would see some rise in economic growth and many will fall back. No one's sure of this. It is a matter of speculation. But one thing economists talk to is they say, well, you know, after this federal stimulus spending fades, where is the demand going to come to really drive growth and drive new jobs? And it's not clear what that would be. So, we still have to see how the next two or three months go. I think we should be watching this labor reports very, very closely and all the other indicators. But at the moment, I don't think we have to worry about this double dip recession. But it is coming up in conversation.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting this morning on the new unemployment figures, 9.8 percent.

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