And Now, Some Good News About Jobs

Friday brought some unexpectedly positive news on the job front. The Labor Department's report said 151,000 jobs were added to the economy. The unemployment rate, which some had projected to climb, held steady at 9.6 percent.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Yesterday brought some unexpectedly positive news on the job front - a report. The U.S. Labor Department said 151,000 jobs were added to the economy in October. The unemployment rate, which some had projected to climb, held steady, at 9.6 percent. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has more on what this means.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Heidi Shierholz is one of those economists who seldom, especially in the last two years, has had anything good to say. But here's what she said about Friday's employment numbers.

Ms. HEIDI SHIERHOLZ (Economic Policy Institute): The employment report was good in the sense that not only did we have job growth, we had job growth that was actually more than what we need just to tread water. We need around 100,000 jobs every month just to hold steady, just to keep up with normal population growth. We got 151,000 jobs.

NOGUCHI: That was largely because businesses finally started hiring in large numbers. Workers were hired in mining, service and health care-related jobs. Moreover, the report said September wasn't actually as bad as initially thought. Fewer jobs were lost than the department previously reported.

But there is a darker side to this report. Again, Heidi Shierholz, the economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

Ms. SHIERHOLZ: The so-called underemployment rate moved a little but it's essentially flat at around 17 percent. A bunch of these measures, they're just holding steady, and at this point that's actually terrible news because they are holding steady at very, very high levels.

NOGUCHI: She says the recession left a hole about 11 million jobs deep. And even at last month's hiring levels, it would take a very, very long time to fill that gap. So then the question is, what will accelerate business hiring?

Philip Condron has a simple answer: when there's demand. Condron runs an eight-person advertising company that's based in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania. Condron and Company was among the first to react when clients cut back on their marketing budgets. He laid off one person and cut back another to part-time. Two years later they're at the same staffing level with no immediate plans to hire because of what their clients are telling them.

Mr. PHILIP CONDRON (Owner, Condron and Company): They're telling us that they're very cautious, that they don't want to budget for a year at this point, they want to budget quarterly. They're very cautious because they're not sure what next year's going to look like either.

NOGUCHI: Even if business were to increase, say, in a year's time, he says he'll likely for some time rely on part-time or freelance workers.

Mr. CONDRON: Certainly not having to pay full benefits to someone is a benefit to us.

NOGUCHI: In the meantime, perhaps the biggest boon to Scranton in recent years hasn't been a political change or a federal program, it's been the success of the TV sitcom "The Office," based on the fictional paper business roughly the size of Condron's, also based in Scranton.

Mr. CONDRON: It has made Scranton cool. People come and every weekend there's a tour where you can go around and see all the various locations that are mentioned on the program. So, yeah, we have fun with it.

NOGUCHI: Fun that is also putting at least a few more people to work.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

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