DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's talk about the latest employment numbers and what they mean. The economy, we're told by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, gained 148,000 jobs in September. The unemployment rate fell slightly, to 7.2 percent. We're getting these numbers a couple of weeks late because of the government shutdown. NPR's Chris Arnold has been following the economy and the shutdown. He's on the line. Hi, Chris.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: So what do the numbers mean?
ARNOLD: Well, we gained jobs and unemployment fell, so that's better than the other way around. We saw a nice little bump in construction jobs (technical difficulty) prior two months showed a slight gain. But this is still weak job growth, and it's actually below what economists were expecting. The consensus was a gain of 180,000 jobs; we got 148,000. So that's disappointing.
And basically, all this means that the economy is just stuck in this ongoing, painfully slow recovery mode. And it's just taking a long time to get the millions of Americans back to work who want jobs. If you look at the long-term unemployed, there are still upwards of 4 million Americans who've been out of work for more than six months. And of course, there are still a lot of Americans who aren't even looking for work, and they don't even get counted in the numbers.
INSKEEP: OK. Let's talk about stewards of the economy, and what they make of this. There's the federal government. We could talk about that. There's also the Federal Reserve. How might they - how might they use these numbers?
ARNOLD: Well, you've probably heard, there's a lot of talk about, when is the Fed going to taper? That's the word that most Americans might have heard flying around on television or the radio. What that means - at some point, the Fed is going to cut back on its stimulus efforts, taper back those stimulus efforts; and the stock market's not going to like that, probably, when it happens. So there's a lot of focus.
Most analysts have been thinking, though, that with the recent headwinds facing the economy, it's unlikely the Fed's going to back away anytime soon. And this disappointing job growth, in this report, probably clinches the deal there. And that probably means that, look, OK, this is going to happen sometime in 2014. It'll be on Janet Yellen's watch, if she's confirmed. So no concerns of a taper anytime soon.
INSKEEP: Chris, when you talk about headwinds, are you including political chaos in that - the government shutdown, the fight over the debt ceiling?
ARNOLD: That is definitely not helping. We're likely to see more of a hit, in terms of job-growth numbers, in the next report just because of the timing of when the data was collected. But it's more than just the shutdown and this one standoff. There's just this overall sense of uncertainty out there in the economy and among business owners.
I was at a manufacturers' convention this past week, and the CEOs of several companies came up to me and told me, look, I've scaled back hiring, or I've put hiring on hold. This is before we knew what was happening with the debt-ceiling standoff. There's just too much uncertainty. They don't know what's going to happen. And this was Republicans and Democrats alike. But both are very frustrated.
INSKEEP: Weren't you telling us earlier this morning about a report that tried to put a number on how many jobs have been lost because of budget battles over the last two or three years?
ARNOLD: Right. Different economic groups are trying to quantify this now. And one study came out last week - it was from Macroeconomic Advisers - and it found that this crisis-driven fiscal policy, is what they termed it, over the past three years has already cost the country nearly a million jobs. I think they found 900,000 jobs. And these are jobs that otherwise would have been created. And much of that, again, is because lawmakers are just not charting a long-term course for the country. Instead, we're getting these short-term policy patches.
ARNOLD: But, you know, we have a budget issue we have to resolve in this country: Medicare, Social Security; what military programs are going to survive; what's going to happen with taxes. Companies need to see the future enough to be able to know, should I be hiring? Should I buy equipment? They don't have enough information. And when Washington gets that dysfunctional, it hurts the economy, and it hurts job growth.
INSKEEP: Chris, thanks very much.
ARNOLD: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Chris Arnold with the latest on employment. Jobs grew in September. The unemployment rate fell very slightly, to 7.2 percent.
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