Jobless Rate Hits 9.8; Will Benefits Get Extended? The Labor Department on Friday said the nation's unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in November because of the weak job market. The jobless rate for October was 9.6 percent. Employers added only 39,000 jobs last month. For more on the latest economic data, Steve Inskeep talks with NPR's Yuki Noguchi.
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Jobless Rate Hits 9.8; Will Benefits Get Extended?

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Jobless Rate Hits 9.8; Will Benefits Get Extended?

Jobless Rate Hits 9.8; Will Benefits Get Extended?

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Good morning.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. What do the numbers say?

NOGUCHI: Well, they're pretty depressing, if you're looking for a job. It's basically a backpedaling from October. I mean, October saw a surge of, as you recall, about 150 - 70,000 job - new jobs. And economists were predicting that November would be the same. The actuality is that it was about a third of that. So the unemployment rate rose from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent. This is far worse than what anyone...

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I understand this. Employers actually are adding jobs, but very slowly. And the workforce seems to be growing faster than the number of jobs grow, so the unemployment rate goes up. That's what's happening.

NOGUCHI: Right. I mean, there are few - the number of people who are participating in the labor force has stayed the same. But what the administration has been hoping and everyone else has been hoping is really that the number of job adds would keep growing, I mean, that the momentum would continue. And what you're seeing is that it's actually going in the reverse.

INSKEEP: What about retail hiring? We are in the middle of holiday season. I thought there were forecasts of retailers doing OK.

NOGUCHI: Well, you know, it's true that this is a time when businesses tend to staff up. But you have to remember that these are not - these are seasonal hires. So the numbers don't actually take into - they take into consideration the fact that this is expected. So if you actually look at the seasonally adjusted numbers, retail hiring was down.

INSKEEP: Is there any sense - and I know we're just getting these numbers this morning. Is there any sense of what's going wrong here, at least in this short term?

NOGUCHI: Well, you know, it's hard to say, Steve. I mean, it's sort of - across the board, the basic problem is that businesses aren't hiring enough. And meanwhile, you have government laying off workers, because their, you know, their budgets are down.

INSKEEP: OK. You mentioned - oh, that's right. State and local governments now are...

NOGUCHI: Yes. Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: ...really getting crunched. And you mentioned government. Let's talk about government in another way. There's a debate in Congress over long-term unemployment benefits. What's happening there, and how is this affected by that news?

NOGUCHI: Right. So the extension of emergency benefits expired this week, as you know. And without that, you go from - you know, some people were able to collect up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. That now reverts back in most states to 26 weeks. And it's hard to say whether this is really going to really change the debate. As you know, Republicans have been pushing tax cuts and cutting, you know, the deficit has been sort of the primary focus on the political stage. But with this report, I mean, perhaps both parties will come to a compromise and decide that maybe they need to extend them a little bit more.

INSKEEP: Let's remember where that stood earlier in the week. Democrats were saying: Let's pass an extension of unemployment benefits. Republicans were saying they don't want...

NOGUCHI: Not unless you can pay for it.

INSKEEP: Yes. Not unless you cut something else in the budget, basically.

NOGUCHI: Correct. Yeah.

INSKEEP: And so there's been a stalemate. They haven't (unintelligible).

NOGUCHI: There has been a stalemate. And, you know, what that means is by the end of the month, you'll see two million people whose benefits expire. And what that means is that, you know, those people won't be spending money at the stores. They may not be able to make their rent. This is money that probably won't be cycling into the economy. And some economists say that that's going to actually have more of a detrimental effect.

INSKEEP: If you look over the last five or six months, or look at the next five or six months, does the broader view of things look any better than the - than today's numbers happen to look?

NOGUCHI: Well, you know, I - if I had the answer to that, Steve...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOGUCHI: ...I probably wouldn't be working in public radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOGUCHI: But, you know, what I can tell you is that if these extensions aren't going to be removed, than by about March, you'll have about four million people whose benefits expire. And in order for the economy to really absorb those people, we'd have to add a million jobs a month. What you're looking at right here is about five percent of that - less than that, actually, you know.

INSKEEP: OK. Yuki, thanks very much.

NOGUCHI: Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Yuki Noguchi, with the latest on the unemployment numbers. Again, the economy added a few jobs this past month, but not nearly what economists were expecting, and the unemployment rate went up to 9.8 percent.

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