Jobless Data Highlight Economic Weakness Hopes that businesses would ramp up hiring took an unexpected hit in December, as the economy shed 85,000 jobs. Employers are nervous about the fragility of the recovery and remain reluctant to hire.
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Jobless Data Highlight Economic Weakness

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Jobless Data Highlight Economic Weakness

Jobless Data Highlight Economic Weakness

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Tough news today for the millions of people struggling to find work. The latest jobs numbers are worst than expected. In December, the economy shed another 85,000 jobs. President Obama called that a matter of concern to every American.

P: The jobs numbers that were released by the Labor Department this morning are a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight.

NORRIS: NPR's Frank Langfitt explains what the numbers tell us about where we are on that road to recovery.

FRANK LANGFITT: The U.S. economy has been out of recession for months, but you wouldn't know it from today's jobs report. Instead of showing progress, the labor market sagged again as firms ranging from construction to retail laid off tens of thousands in December. Heidi Shierholz works for the Economic Policy Institute, a labor think tank in Washington. She says today's report shows any jobs recovery will take time.

BLOCK: It's going to be a long haul. We're not only not adding jobs, we're still losing jobs at a steady pace right now.

LANGFITT: The government says the economy began growing again in the summer and early fall, but most employers are still reluctant to hire. Mark Vitner is managing director at Wells Fargo. He says companies were uncertain about the strength of consumer demand, and they don't know how major legislation, such as health-care reform, will affect their bottom line.

BLOCK: A lot of this is - saying, how am I going to commit to hiring workers when I don't know how much it's going to cost me to employ them? And if they don't know what it's going to cost to hire a worker, they're not likely to move forward that decision until they feel a lot more certain about economic environment.

BLOCK: What is true is, we're all disappointed. I'm sure the American people are disappointed.

LANGFITT: That's Christina Romer. She's the White House's chief economist, and she was reacting to today's labor report. Romer says recoveries can be slow and halting. For instance, the government's revised figures for November show the economy actually grew by 4,000 jobs that month. But 4,000 jobs is too small to have much of an impact in a labor market that employs more than 138 million people.

BLOCK: This is how real recoveries happen. They come in fits and starts and now, it looks like November was a start and December was a little bit of a fit.

LANGFITT: Romer noted a bright spot in today's report. Temporary hiring grew in December. That's the fourth month in a row, and it's important.

BLOCK: As companies start to ramp up and hire again, many of them usually turn to temporary labor first to get, you know, someone in the door quickly and get the work done.

LANGFITT: Joney Roogie(ph) works for Adecco, the temporary services giant.

BLOCK: We're seeing increase in some of our manufacturing customers. The demand for products is increasing, and they're starting to add people back even in, you know, the warehouses and production facilities. So that's a very good sign.

LANGFITT: But those new jobs for temp workers last month were offset by continued layoffs in the construction business. Karl Case is an economics professor at Wellesley College. He says the glut of foreclosures has reduced demand for workers to build new homes.

P: They're not building anything. People say, why should I buy a new house if I can get an old house that's deeply discounted to get it sold?

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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