2011 Outlook Dimmer After Latest Job Numbers The final jobs report of 2010 was released on Friday. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR Senior Business Editor Marilyn Geewax about the outlook for job growth in 2011, based on the latest unemployment data.
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2011 Outlook Dimmer After Latest Job Numbers

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2011 Outlook Dimmer After Latest Job Numbers

2011 Outlook Dimmer After Latest Job Numbers

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Friday, the Labor Department released a jobs reports showing that the nation's economy is still in deep trouble. During a dismal November, the unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent as companies created only a paltry number of jobs. That was the last unemployment report the government will issue in 2010. For the nation's 15 million job seekers, saying goodbye to 2010 will be easy.

Here to look ahead to 2011 is NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. Welcome back, Marilyn.


HANSEN: When the economists go over the 2010 data, what do they see?

GEEWAX: Well, they see a whole lot of disappointing news. Even though a couple of months did show promise, overall, the year was really a disaster for people who are in need of jobs. We thought we'd be seeing improvement but actually the jobless rate is worse than when the year started. It was just 9.7 percent then. The economists had thought that November's report would show roughly 150,000 jobs had been created but in fact only 39,000 jobs were created.

So, yes, you know, the forecasters were correct about the direction of hiring -November was the 11th straight month where we had private job growth - but the consensus forecast was just way too optimistic.

HANSEN: What about 2011? Will the optimists finally get it right?

GEEWAX: Well, after seeing this really shockingly bad report for November, I don't think too many economists are going to want to get out on a limb and predict that 2011 is going to be terrific. But in general, they do remain pretty positive. I saw reports from a number of mainstream economists who think that actually the November number was flawed in one way or another and they think that it'll be revised upward.

They just can't believe they're that far off, so they're sticking with a generally positive outlook for several reasons. For one thing, they're seeing that retail sales are picking up and that suggests that people who do have jobs are feeling a little bit more confident about keeping them. And the number of temporary workers has been rising pretty quickly. So, again, that suggests that the labor market is at least shifting towards this better footing and at some point those temporary workers probably will get offered full-time jobs.

HANSEN: Are any industries doing well?

GEEWAX: Well, leisure and hospitality, they're seeing better results there. It looks like business travelers are starting to book hotel rooms again. People are getting out into restaurants and bars some more. So, again, that goes back to this idea that people who do have jobs are feeling more confident, because they aren't expecting that pink slip at any moment. So, that kind of confidence at least helps create the right environment for more hiring.

HANSEN: So, if the jobs are growing at restaurants and hotels, is that where people should be applying?

GEEWAX: If you look pretty hard at the statistics you might decide you need to rethink your career plans to fit today's realities. For example, maybe you always wanted to work for your hometown, maybe you want to be a fireman or a public administration-type job, but unfortunately what the data are suggesting is that that would be a really tough way to go in 2011. There's so many budget cutbacks.

In November, local government slashed about 14,000 jobs and that downward trend probably is going to be continue when states, counties, cities, they're going to keep cutting those budgets in the new year.

Anything related to housing, too, that's another tough one. Construction companies cut about 5,000 jobs last month. If you want to start the new year with a paycheck, you need to go where employers are actually increasing their payrolls. And right now that is in food services, but also health care services and shipping.

HANSEN: Where will there be growth in the coming year?

GEEWAX: This does seem to be, you know, kind of a good time to go green. Companies involved with renewable energy sources are expanding. This country now has about 93,000 solar energy jobs. Those weren't here just a few years ago. And, you know, you look around and the country needs mechanical engineers to help harness those new energy sources and just about anything involving organic agriculture, that's growing too.

HANSEN: But will these hot sectors grow quickly enough to soak up all the people who want to work?

GEEWAX: Well, that's back to the tough part. You know, these healthier sectors are going to make 2011 somewhat more encouraging for workers. But, you know, creating enough jobs to absorb 15 million people, you know, that's -realistically, that's just something that's going to take a whole lot more than one year. Even the most optimistic economists are talking in terms of years -maybe four or five years - before the labor market could really be considered healthy again.

HANSEN: NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. Thanks a lot, Marilyn.


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