Possible Good News On Job Creation

It's been a long time since the Labor Department issued a monthly jobs report that didn't have a "minus" sign in front of it, but it could happen on Friday. Forecasters expect the March report to say up to 200,000 jobs were added last month, welcome news for the people who got those jobs as well as for the politicians hoping to keep theirs.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

It's been a long time since the Labor Department issued a monthly jobs report that didn't have a minus sign in front of it, but it could happen tomorrow. Forecasters expect the March report to say up to 200,000 jobs were added last month. That would be welcomed news for the people who got those jobs as well as for the politicians hoping to keep theirs.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The United States has been losing jobs in 25 of the last 26 months. Nearly eight and a half million jobs have disappeared since January of 2008. The only pause in the parade of pink slips came last November, and more months of job losses followed. Tomorrow's jobs report could be the beginning of a sustained rebound.

Dr. NARIMAN BEHRAVESH (Economist, IHS Global Insight): I think we have finally turned the corner, and from now on we'll start to see a steady increase in the monthly job gains.

HORSLEY: That's economist Nariman Behravesh whose firm, IHS Global Insight, think some 200,000 jobs were added in March. Of course, there are cautionary notes: about half those new jobs are temporary, census positions that won't last very long, and summer jobs that would've been added in February had the weather not been so nasty in the Northeast. But Behravesh says, even if you subtract those one-time distortions, jobs were still added in March, and he expects the employment numbers will keep going up slowly, but steadily.

Dr. BEHRAVESH: Clearly, the trend is towards a significant improvement in the jobs picture. And I think the news will get better and better as this year progresses.

HORSLEY: By years end, Behravesh thinks, the economy will be adding around 150,000 jobs every month. That's a huge turnaround from a year ago. But it would only put a dent in the unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner acknowledged as much in an interview on NBC.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Secretary TIMOTHY GEITHNER (Department of Treasury): The unemployment rate is still terribly high and it's going to stay unacceptably high for a long period of time. It's going to take a long time to bring it down just because of the damage caused by the recession.

HORSLEY: In Charlotte, North Carolina, where President Obama goes tomorrow to talk about jobs, unemployment this winter hit 12.8 percent. Charlotte's a big banking center that was hit hard by the financial meltdown. But George Rickles, who co-owns a firm that supplies temporary workers there, says he is seeing signs of revival.

Mr. GEORGE RICKLES (Co-owner, Quality Personnel): Getting better, getting along quite a bit better as a matter of fact. We are seeing an uptick.

HORSLEY: Rickles says laid-off workers often turn to his firm for temporary employment. So he's got a deep pool of available workers. A year ago, there were not many jobs he could send them to, but that's beginning to change as companies' business improves.

Mr. RICKLES: When we start picking up it means that the recession is slowly but surely ending. But I'm not sure that the companies are going to want to hire permanently in the future as much as they did in the past, because everybody got caught with their pants down on this recession. I mean, they had to spend a lot of money to shed all these positions.

HORSLEY: Behravesh says extreme caution by employers is the single biggest factor keeping a lid on job growth. Over time, he thinks more businesses will gain the confidence to start hiring, if so the White House can hardly wait.

Dr. BEHRAVESH: That certainly is a plus for the administration. They can point to it and say things are improving. But unfortunately, the unemployment rate will still be fairly high, so it's not clear how big of a plus it will be for the Obama administration and the Democrats.

HORSLEY: What is clear is that every monthly jobs report is being watched, not only as an economic indicator but a political one as well.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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