ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY. We're going to MARKETPLACE now, and we need to because the economic news, well, it's confusing. It's puzzling, especially on employment. The number of jobs actually went down. The number of people working suffered a net loss of 17,000 jobs this last month, and yet the unemployment rate also dropped slightly. Bob Moon is here from MARKETPLACE to explain. Bob, you know, these figures, sometimes they are in apparent contradiction like this. Now, remind me how this occurs.

BOB MOON: Well, this was a slight drop in the unemployment rate, and it could just mean that people left the job market for various reasons, including that they just gave up looking work. So it's cut in the payrolls that many economists are worried about right now, because the number was a lot worse than they had expected. In fact, the general consensus was that 80,000 jobs would be created during the month. But what we really saw was a net reduction in payrolls, and that hasn't happened in four and a half years. If that reading was showing up on a cockpit gauge right now, we might be hearing a stall-out warning. Manufacturing jobs were among the hardest hit. Manufacturers cut around 28,000 workers during the past month. That marks the 19th straight month of contraction for that sector. Construction jobs suffered almost as much. That sector shed around 27,000 jobs.

And if you look at the numbers since employment peeked back in September of 2006, the number of construction-related jobs has swelled to 284,000 that have been lost.

CHADWICK: So I know that economists are looking at these numbers and trying to figure out what is the state of the economy. What will they derive from this?

MOON: Well, a lot of them are saying today that this could well be the last nail in the coffin when it comes to a recession. The reason for that gloom is that the job market is seen as a lagging indicator. It tends to show up as a result of business troubles that are already happening.

CHADWICK: Uh-huh. How's Wall Street reacting?

MOON: Well, the financial markets have really been whipsawed by all this news, because they're asking is the economy strong, or is it strained here? The Institute for Supply Management just announced that factory activity rose in January from December, and that would be a sign of expansion. So things are still confusing, even for Wall Street right now.

CHADWICK: Yeah. President Bush talking about the economy today, he says - well, he says things are okay, but they're uncertain and perhaps weakening. Is anything doing well out there?

MOON: Well, we can tell you that ExxonMobil reported a record $40 billion in profit for 2007. That figures out to roughly $75,000 every minute. Record oil prices have boosted its fourth quarter earnings to $11.6 billion, and that's the highest ever operating profit by a U.S. company.

CHADWICK: Well, there's some good news. Bob, thank you. Bob Moon of public radio's daily business show, MARKETPLACE.

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