RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene. We are getting a new read this morning on the state of the U.S. economy. It's a jobs report for the month of November, and it came in stronger than expected. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, and employers added 146,000 jobs to payrolls. This news comes, of course, as the White House and Congress try to find a compromise on how to address tax hikes and spending cuts that are due to hit starting next month.
Joining us to discuss what this report means for that, as well as the economy, are NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley and business correspondent Yuki Noguchi.
Good morning to you both.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: Yuki, get things started for us, if you can. What do you see in this report that's significant?
NOGUCHI: Well, we were all expecting this report to be downbeat because of Superstorm Sandy, and the surprise was that that didn't happen. The Labor Department is saying, in fact, the weather did not substantively impact this report. Now, we could see some revisions, and that could change. But as of today, the report says the number of jobs added last month was much better than expected: 146,000.
GREENE: Well, that - give us a sense of what that number means, in the context everything.
NOGUCHI: Well, here's an interesting thing. Are you ready?
NOGUCHI: The number of jobs added every month for the last two years has been about 150,000. For two years, that's the average. And that's what you're seeing, of course, this month. You saw about 150,000 new jobs. So it wasn't worse last month, but it really hasn't gotten better for a long time. And 150,000 is just enough job growth to chip away at the unemployment rate, and as you mentioned, it dropped from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent last month.
GREENE: So one sign that, over the last few years, the economy is not getting worse, but also not getting better, perhaps.
GREENE: Scott, let me turn to you. You know, when we talked about jobs a month ago, jobs report, we were talking about a bitter presidential election fight. Now we're talking about a political fight over the - avoiding the fiscal cliff in Washington. Could this report change those negotiations at all?
HORSLEY: Well, because it came in so average, I don't think it's going to be a major factor. One thing that's interesting is that the numbers for September and October were both revised down. Those months turned out not to be as strong in terms of job growth. But President Obama is really sticking with his line that tax rates for the upper-income earners have to go up. That's where fight over the fiscal cliff is, and I don't see this being a major influence on that battle.
GREENE: Could this report do anything else? I mean, could it spur some kind of action in Congress, perhaps a new stimulus, or maybe an extension of unemployment benefits?
HORSLEY: I don't really see that, at least in terms of the new stimulus - perhaps an extension of unemployment benefits. Even though this report came in better than expected, you know, we're still talking about unemployment that's 7.7 percent. That's much higher than anybody should be comfortable with. The jobs numbers are still not enough to really make a meaningful dent in the millions of people who are looking for work.
But even though the president's been pushing for stimulus for over a year and a half now, it's just not getting a lot of traction in Congress. I think the prospects for a major government addition to the economy are pretty slim. The best we can hope for is that they don't have a major subtraction for the economy, which is what the fiscal cliff would be.
GREENE: And, Yuki, this unemployment number, 7.7 percent, it's a new low for some time right now, right?
NOGUCHI: The lowest it's been in four years.
GREENE: But still a pretty high number, as I'm sure a lot of Americans are feeling. If there is new hiring, Yuki, where's the hiring coming from?
NOGUCHI: Well, last month, it happened in retail, professional services and in the medical field. And where it's losing ground is in construction and manufacturing. Now, I have talked to businesses who say they've already changed their hiring plans because of the fiscal cliff. And it's - you know, it's not just that businesses may have to pay higher taxes. It's that the fiscal cliff could take a bite out of an already weakened economy. This quarter, the fourth quarter, is expected to just barely grow. So depending on whether we hit that cliff, you know, we could move into negative territory, recession territory. Then again, David, a lot has changed, and one thing seems to have stayed the same: The economy stubbornly keeps adding the same number of jobs month after month.
GREENE: OK. We're talking this morning about a new jobs report that says, for the month of November, the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, and employers added 146,000 jobs. NPR's Yuki Noguchi, NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, thank you both.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
NOGUCHI: Thank you, David.
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