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More Workers Quit Labor Force

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More Workers Quit Labor Force

Economy

More Workers Quit Labor Force

More Workers Quit Labor Force

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The unemployment rate fell in June to 9.5 percent, but few analysts have anything good to say about the government's latest jobs report. The small decline in the unemployment rate happened because so many people left the workforce, and the number of jobs on business and government payrolls declined by 125,000.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The bad news is that the nation's labor market is limping. The good news - at least, according to President Obama - is that it's still moving in the right direction.

President BARACK OBAMA: We're not headed there fast enough for a lot of Americans. We're not headed there fast enough for me, either. The recession dug us a hole of about 8 million jobs deep.

BLOCK: And months like June aren't going to get the country out of that hole anytime soon. The government's monthly jobs report, released this morning, found layoffs of temporary census workers more than offset private-sector job growth. Overall, the economy shed 125,000 jobs last month.

NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: Here's how you get to that number. The private sector created 83,000 jobs but the public sector - government - was in serious negative territory. The census cut its payroll by 225,000 in June.

Kathy Lee(ph) was among those cut. She started in April as an enumerator, counting San Diego residents who hadn't sent back their census forms.

Ms. KATHY LEE (Former Worker, U.S. Census Bureau): And we went, knocked on their doors, and tried to fill out the survey with them.

KEITH: Lee says she knew the job was temporary, but she hoped it would last until she found a full-time, permanent job. Then one day in early June, her census gig ended abruptly.

Ms. LEE: And it was like, oh - no, I think we're pretty much done. This will be your last day. Like literally, that's what happened.

KEITH: But temporary census workers weren't the only government employees who got layoff notices in June. Kenny Drews(ph) was a patrolman in the Franklin Township Police Department in New Jersey.

Mr. KENNY DREWS (Former Patrolman, Franklin Township Police Department): Oh, I loved it. I wanted to be a cop since I was kid.

KEITH: Now, he's applying for unemployment and so is his wife, a kindergarten teacher. He says they both lost their jobs because of tight local budgets.

Mr. DREWS: It's not so much the money that's the hard part, but we both loved what we did. I was just interested in it, and I wanted to do it. And my wife loved kids, and she wanted to be a teacher.

KEITH: So far this year, state and local governments have cut 50,000 jobs, and many economists expect it to get worse - which puts that much more pressure on the private sector to lead the way out of this jobless recovery, says Philip Jefferson. He's a professor of economics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Professor PHILIP JEFFERSON: (Economics, Swarthmore College): It's not until we see robust job growth in the private sector that Americans are going to start to feel better, and feel as though we're really turning the corner.

KEITH: So what is robust? It would be a lot more than the 83,000 private-sector jobs added in June.

Ms. LISA LYNCH (Dean, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University): The direction is right, but there's definitely room for improvement.

KEITH: Lisa Lynch is dean of the public policy school at Brandeis University, and a former chief economist at the Labor Department. The private sector has created jobs for six months straight - but not enough, she says.

Ms. LYNCH: Really, what you want to see is month after month of 200,000 or more jobs added to the economy - the majority of those coming out of the private sector.

KEITH: And we aren't even close to that right now.

Ms. LYNCH: No, 83,000 is a long way from 200,000.

KEITH: One bright spot in the report comes with such a massive caveat that no one is celebrating. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.5 percent.

Peter Morici is an economist at the University of Maryland.

Mr. PETER MORICI (Economist, University of Maryland): The unemployment rate fell simply because 650,000 adults quit the labor force. They stopped looking for work. They gave up frustrated - so they don't count.

KEITH: Morici says if you count all the people who are discouraged, and those who would like to work full time but only have part-time jobs, the unemployment rate would be more like 16 percent.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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