We Were Hoping For More From The Job Market Despite some positive signs in the economy, employers remain reluctant to hire. That fact was hammered home in May when the private sector added a disappointing 41,000 new jobs. Many more had been expected. The overwhelming number of new jobs last month were temporary census positions.
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We Were Hoping For More From The Job Market

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We Were Hoping For More From The Job Market

We Were Hoping For More From The Job Market

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

U.S. economy has been growing for months, but many of the nation's unemployed won't feel that growth until they find work.

Christina Romer is the White House chief economist.

Ms. CHRISTINA ROMER (Council of Economic Advisers): I'm going to define full recovery as the way the president does, is everybody who wants a job has a job.

SIMON: Based on yesterday's Labor Department report, that day still remains many years away. The government says the economy grew by more than 400,000 jobs in May, but nearly all of them were temporary ones for census workers.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: Millions of Americans remain unemployed. But the economy created just 41,000 private sector jobs last month. Investors responded by sending the Dow plunging more than 300 points. The White House's Christina Romer tried to put the best face on the disappointing job numbers.

Ms. ROMER: The important thing is, of course, the longer-run trajectory. What we're certainly focusing on is the fact that weve added private sector jobs for each of the last five months. If you actually go back, those add up to some half a million jobs since last December. So that's the big picture.

LANGFITT: That is the big picture. But its not enough. The recession destroyed more than seven million jobs. Economists say replacing them and adding enough to account for population growth will take years.

Mark Zandi is the co-founder of Economy.com.

Mr. MARK ZANDI (Economy.com): We can't conclude that the economic coast is clear until we're creating enough jobs to bring unemployment down in a consistent and substantive way. And for that to occur we need at least 150 to 200 thousand jobs per month.

LANGFITT: The unemployment rate did fall to 9.7 percent in May. But to bring it down a lot more, companies will have to become more confident in the recovery and start hiring in droves. So far that just isn't happening.

John Graham is a professor of finance at Duke. He surveys chief financial officers with CFO magazine.

Professor JOHN GRAHAM (Duke University): CFOs are saying right now that they would like to hire more because the demand for their product - in some sectors, at least - is improving, but they're holding back until they realize this is long-term growth and not just kind of a little spurt of growth that might peter out in the second half of the year.

Mr. JIM TOOHEY (Chief Financial Officer, Direct Group): Our business has picked up tremendously in the last couple of months.

LANGFITT: That's Jim Toohey. He's the chief financial officer at Direct Group. It's a big direct marketing firm based in New Jersey.

Mr. TOOHEY: We're actually about 120 percent over where we were running early in 2009 and 2008.

LANGFITT: So in terms of demand, youve more than recovered from the recession?

Mr. TOOHEY: We have.

LANGFITT: But his payroll hasnt. Before the recession, the company employed 1,200 people. Now his staff is about half that. And Toohey is cautious about bringing on full-time workers.

Mr. TOOHEY: We're adding workers primarily through temp agencies.

LANGFITT: That's because Toohey doesnt want to make a long-term commitment to new employees. He's not sure where the economy is headed and he doesnt want to lay people off again.

Mr. TOOHEY: I think that the uncertainties are many. You know, globally there's just a lot of instability as far as economies - you know, the whole euro issue with Greece and Spain and Portugal. And I think there's just trepidation that something could happen that we may not even have control over.

LANGFITT: Toohey is hopeful demand will continue, and if so, he could hire several hundred workers this summer. But, he says, theyll all be temps.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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