Unemployment Falls To 10 Percent In November

The Labor Department says unemployment fell to 10 percent in November as employers cut the smallest number of jobs since the recession began. The figures show the economy lost 11,000 jobs last month which is an improvement over what economists had been expecting.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, the Labor Department releases its monthly jobs report this morning, and we are expecting another step in the agonizing process month-by-month of losing more jobs but not losing quite so many jobs as the month before. NPR's Tamara Keith is covering this story. She's in our studios live. Good morning.

TAMARA KEITH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are economists expecting here?

KEITH: Well, we're going to get two numbers. We're going to get the unemployment rate and we're going to get payroll figures. And economists are forecasting - their estimates are somewhere around 100,000 to 130,000 - that's the range for losses in payroll employment. And this may sound strange, but would be good. Like, 100,000 is good.

INSKEEP: Better compared to 500,000�

KEITH: Right.

INSKEEP: �or more that it was per month.

KEITH: Exactly. So, it's this sort of incremental slowing down of the losses. And then eventually the hope is that - and this could be very soon - that it's going to turn around. That we're actually going to start creating more jobs than we're losing in any given month. As far as the unemployment rate, economists are expecting that that might stay the same at 10.2 percent. But no one expects that that is the peak. So, there's just a long way to go.

INSKEEP: Meaning it could go higher than 10.2 percent at some point?

KEITH: Yeah. I've heard something in the range of 10.5. And then it takes years to return to the glory days of 7 percent at the pre-recession levels.

INSKEEP: And so those will be the big numbers. But, of course, there's a lot of finer and smaller numbers that economists will be looking at and they'll be sifting for clues to what's happening and how it's happening.

KEITH: Right. And there are two big numbers that I will be looking for - not an economist but I'll be looking for them too. Temporary employment, that's temp jobs. Those are an early indicator that employers are thinking about hiring again. And we've been adding temp jobs for the last three months. Also the average work week, which as of last month had been holding firm at 33 hours a week, which is not very many hours. If we see that number start to move up that's a sign that employers might need to think about hiring soon.

INSKEEP: Both of those suggest that the existing workforce is getting strained, that they have a little bit of pressure to get more labor on. They're not quite willing to hire full-time people but they might be getting closer to that.

KEITH: Yes. And the whole idea is that eventually this pent-up demand - there will be pent-up demand and then they will actually have to start hiring.

INSKEEP: Tamara, I suppose it's no surprise that the day before these unemployment numbers come out, the White House held a jobs summit yesterday.

KEITH: Right. And, obviously, the unstated goal of that summit was to reassure the public that the Obama administration is on this, that they are paying attention to the jobs situation. They brought together business leaders, labor leaders, economists, all kinds of people. They had breakout sessions. There were all kinds of ideas for creating jobs or accelerating job creation. But as the president said, that was just the beginning of the discussion.

INSKEEP: Now, we should mention that Republicans have been criticizing the president over jobs and, in fact, Republicans were even saying yesterday the very existence of a jobs summit suggests that the administration hasn't figured out what to do about this yet. Did the administration give any sense of what further concrete steps they might take to improve the jobs picture here?

KEITH: Yesterday was largely about ideas. They talked about things like more green jobs through weatherizing, state aid, encouraging companies to hire more workers through direct tax incentives. But they didn't say, and this is what we're going to do.

The president is expected to give a speech next week where we may get a better sense of where the administration is going. But I will say that business leaders are concerned about the uncertainty and it's not just economic uncertainty. They're not hiring because they're also unsure about health care legislation and about climate change legislation and a lot of other things.

INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks very much.

KEITH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith and she'll be with us throughout the morning as we learn the unemployment figures.

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