Unemployment Rate Drops To 9.4%, But Job Growth Still Anemic

The Obama Administration is likely to focus on the fact that the unemployment rate in December dropped 4/10ths of a percentage point but, as always, the devil is in the details:

The United States economy ended the year by adding 103,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department said Friday, a number that missed expectations. In addition, the unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent last month from 9.8 percent.

The agency also revised estimates from the two earlier months, now saying that 210,000 jobs were created in October instead of 172,000, and 71,000 in November, instead of 39,000.

As with previous months, all of the gain in December — 113,000 jobs — came from private companies.

Federal, state and local governments continued to shed jobs — cutting another 10,000 last month after trimming 8,000 in November, revised from 11,000 mostly on the local level. States and municipalities dealing with tighter budgets may be faced with further cuts as they try to shrink their deficits.

While the overall picture showed improving job growth, the additions in the private sector in December were not enough to significantly reduce the ranks of the unemployed or keep pace with people entering the work force. The outlook remains bleak for many workers. More than 14.5 million people were out of work in December.

Still, economists noted that the jobs data is a lagging indicator and pointed to other signs of a turnaround, though their outlook for 2011 remained varied.

“The U.S. economy finally appears to be picking up steam and headed toward recovery,” said Steven Blitz, a senior economist for ITG Investment Research. “Several economic indicators — including manufacturing and services output, and sales of cars and consumer goods — have shown noticeable improvement over the last few months.”

It’s impossible to say we’re even anywhere close to recovery in the jobs market until the number of new jobs created, net of jobs eliminated, is at the 150,000 per month level and above. And that rate is going to have to be sustained for many, many, many months before the long impact of the Great Recession is really behind us.

So, yea, this is good news, but let’s not fool ourselves here. The jury is still out when it comes to jobs.

Update: Over at his own place, Dave Schuler is puzzled about the new jobs numbers:

Riddle me this. How can the U-3 unemployment rate fall sharply, the U-6 unemployment rate fall sharply, the number of long-term unemployed remain essentially the same and the economy only create 100K jobs? Inquiring minds want to know.

Indeed, and this was one of the first questions that went through my mind when I saw the figures this morning. It’s actually the second month in a row that we’ve had an odd jobs report. Back in December, the November jobs report initially came in with only 39,000 jobs created. That number was revised today to a net job creation of 71,000, nearly double the amount first reported. It leads one to wonder if there isn’t something odd going on at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Journolist says:

    IIRC, from 2002-2004, the decrease in the percentage was greeted with howls of derision from the left and MSM (But I Repeat Myself) because so many people just gave up looking for jobs. Is that not the case today? I sawwhere labor market participation dropped yet again.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Considering that the U-6 unemployment is 16.7%, I am not impressed by this new rate.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    The BLS is serving mutton dressed as lamb. The unemployment rate fell because the labor participation rate fell.

  4. markm says:

    “9.4% … and rising!”

    Yeah, the DoL says we lost 5x what we hired. Anemic at best.

  5. Michael says:

    From NPR this morning, I gather that the unemployment numbers are based on the number of people seeking unemployment benefits. They mentioned that there is a large number of people who have not passed the 99 week mark, and are ineligible for further benefits, and that those people are no longer being counted in this statistic, even though they continue to be unemployed.

  6. Michael says:

    Gah, replace “not” with “now” in “who have not passed the 99 week mark”

  7. Tlaloc says:

    “IIRC, from 2002-2004, the decrease in the percentage was greeted with howls of derision from the left and MSM (But I Repeat Myself) because so many people just gave up looking for jobs. Is that not the case today?”

    Not if the U6 fell. The U6 includes workers who have given up on finding work while the U3 does not, which is why the U3 is essentially useless and should be round filed. But nobody wants to be the one to switch to the U6 because it will look like overnight unemployment doubled.

  8. This is fishy, because something doesn’t add up. We know that we need to create 125,000 new jobs a month just to keep the unemployment rate where it is, in order to compensate for an expanding job market as new people begin looking for work. So, if the unemployment rate FELL 0.4%, that means we must have added, what… 500,000 jobs in December! Wow, this is impressive… half a million new jobs in December???