LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
As 2011 approaches, we're looking back. And this morning we're looking back at the most closely watched economic number of the year, the unemployment rate. It was 9.7 as the year began and the economy has been creating jobs ever since. Yet at the end of 2010 the jobless rate is even higher, and no one is feeling good about the labor market. NPR's Tamara Keith explains.
TAMARA KEITH: Each month, the Labor Department releases new data about the nation's employment situation. That includes the unemployment rate and whether the number of jobs on payrolls went up or down. And most months, President Barack Obama responded to the data.
President BARACK OBAMA: We've now seen job growth for four months in a row.
This is the fifth month in a row that we've seen job gains.
The sixth straight month of job growth in the private sector.
The eight consecutive month of private job growth.
Nine straight months of private sector job growth.
For 10 straight months.
KEITH: November marks the 11th month straight. On average, the private sector created 100,000 jobs a month this year. But as the president said almost every time, it wasn't nearly good enough.
President OBAMA: As I've said before, the only piece of economic news that folks still looking for work want to hear is: you're hired.
Professor CLIFF ZUKIN (Rutgers University): Dismal and pathetic and dire.
KEITH: That's how Cliff Zukin describes the labor market in 2010. Zukin is a professor of public policy at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.
Prof. ZUKIN: The job creation compared to the amount of people out of work is a drop in the bucket.
KEITH: There were about a million jobs created but 15 million unemployed. Another nine million are working part-time but want full-time jobs.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, says in 2010 the labor market was running hard but going nowhere. Zandi says the economy needs to generate about 150,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth and people re-entering the workforce. It didn't do that in 2010.
Mr. MARK ZANDI (Moody's Analytics): It wasn't negative. We weren't hemorrhaging jobs. But in the context of 10 percent unemployment, standing still isn't all that great.
KEITH: Just ask Jack Warner. He lost his job in the auto industry two years ago. He's going back to school to get new skills and still checks job search websites every day, hoping for leads. I asked him to describe his year in jobs.
Mr. JACK WARNER (Unemployed IT Professional): In one word, I guess I would have to say frustrating.
KEITH: How many job interviews have you had in the last year?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WARNER: One.
KEITH: Warner is an IT professional who specializes in mainframe computers. And there just aren't that many jobs left in his field. His one job interview was the week before Thanksgiving. He hasn't heard anything from the company since.
Mr. WARNER: I thought it went well, but I guess not.
KEITH: Warner is about to join the 99ers. It's a term for people who've received 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and aren't eligible for any more. Warner's benefits run out around the first of the year and he's not sure what he'll do. Many of the jobs created in 2010 were temporary positions, some 260,000 of them.
In May, Trenda Kennedy landed a job in the mental health field after months of unemployment. Health care was another major growth area in the labor market this year. Two months later she was laid off.
Ms. TRENDA KENNEDY (Mental Health Worker): So I was very crushed, but fortunately another person on our team decided to take another job, and so they called me back.
KEITH: She says the job has been great, but it's going to be a long time before she forgets what it felt like to be unemployed.
Ms. KENNEDY: When my boss called me into his office the other day, I just thought, oh no, here we go again - I'm going to get laid off again, you know, something has happened. And you know, no, it was a project. But still, your mind goes down that path.
KEITH: Looking forward to 2011, many economists believe the unemployment rate will drop to around nine percent or about double what it was before the recession began.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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