Jobless Rate Holds Steady At 9.7 Percent
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Here's another one of those economic reports where we can at least tell you it could be worse. The unemployment rate stayed the same in February, and that's a surprise because most economists had predicted the rate would rise.
NPR's Tamara Keith has been digging through the report and has some details. She's in our studios, live.
TAMARA KEITH: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Okay. So it was 9.7 percent in January, still there.
KEITH: Yep, still there. But there is another broader measure of unemployment that rose. If you add the discouraged workers and those working part-time, not because they wanted to but because they had to, it goes up to 16.8 percent, which is higher than it was in January. Total payrolls fell by 36,000 and that's better than most analysts had been predicting.
INSKEEP: Wow, the 16.8 percent figure. Whenever you hear that total figure, no matter how many times, it's stunning every time.
KEITH: Yeah, it's mind-blowing.
INSKEEP: It's amazing. Now we said that 36,000 jobs were lost - net jobs. It's just because there's two different surveys here, right? One finds unemployment about the same; one finds the situation a bit worse, but not as bad as it could've been.
KEITH: Yes, it's basically asking different people questions, different sample sizes. But the 36,000 is a net number. So if you break that down you'll see that there were job gains in some areas. There were also significant losses, again, in construction. Month after month, construction is losing jobs. But that was offset by health care and temp hiring.
If you look at temp hiring, it's 280,000 jobs just since September. So that's a good thing and they say that temp hiring leads to permanent hiring, eventually. So overall, the job losses are slowing down but the economy is still shedding jobs.
I spoke with John Silvia, who's an economist at Wells Fargo, and this is how he summarized the report.
KEITH: So the overall worker out there and certainly for the politicians, they should be happy because the job situation is improving. And probably by May or June this year, we will get into that period of time, we will have steady job gains probably for the next two to three years.
KEITH: So he says a year from now we'll look back on right now and we'll say, wow, we have survived the worst of it. But we'll also still have 8 percent unemployment or higher a year from now, and they're saying that to get back to that five percent unemployment we enjoyed when the recession began, it's going to be years.
INSKEEP: Now you told us earlier this morning about long-term unemployed - people who've been unemployment six months or more. For people in that situation, just getting to June or November, or whenever it looks better, that's tough.
KEITH: It absolutely is and the longer you're out of the workforce the harder it is to get back in, because employers will look at your resume and say well, why is this? I mean he looks qualified but why has he been out for six months? It's kind of like a house that's been on the market longer than the others, you're like, why?
Though, I will say that in this report, even that showed some signs of improvement - just slightly. The duration of unemployment and the total number of people just improved slightly, though it's still more than six million people who have been unemployed six months or more.
INSKEEP: Now leading up to this report, you also advised us to watch for the effect of massive snowstorms on the East Coast, which actually could affect the unemployment picture. And what happened?
KEITH: Kind of a whole lot of nothing.
INSKEEP: Oh. Okay.
KEITH: I guess you could say it was snowverated(ph).
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INSKEEP: I'm sorry. We're out of time. No. We do have few more seconds here. What was the effect? Okay.
KEITH: Well, basically the BLS said that it was - the Bureau of Labor Statistics - said that it was really hard to tell what if any impact there was. And frankly, the economists expected this report to be much worse because of the snow, and because it wasn't worse, well, you know, we're left saying, wow, okay, dodged that one.
INSKEEP: I'll tell you the effect, all my neighbors are tired and grumpy. That's the effect of that snowstorm.
INSKEEP: Tamara, thanks very much.
KEITH: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. And again, the unemployment picture according to the Labor Department - new numbers out today - the unemployment rates stays the same, 9.7 percent.
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