News Column

Nation Adds 236,000 Jobs; Unemployment Rate Drops

March 11, 2013

Jane M. Von Bergen

Wall Street liked what it heard from Washington, as the stock market responded positively to an upbeat jobs report Friday from the U.S. Labor Department.

February's unemployment rate edged down to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent, while payroll jobs grew by 236,000, with broad hiring in nearly every sector.

The report sent the Dow Jones industrial average up 67 points, and the S&P gained nearly seven points.

"The number was up more than expected," said PNC Financial Services chief economist Kurt Rankin. "But we still have not reached escape velocity."

Escape velocity?

It's Rankin's trying-to-be-snappy way of saying that the job market still hasn't generated enough work to propel the nation out of the decline caused by the great recession.

When the recession began in December 2007, the unemployment rate was 5 percent. Unemployment reached a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 before it began to decline.

"If we were creating jobs at 300,000 jobs a month, we'd have more income flowing into the economy," Rankin said, which would, in turn, generate more jobs.

Louis Belisto, 38, of Deptford, would like one of those jobs. Laid off Feb. 22, he is included among the 12 million unemployed Americans, which does not include people too discouraged to look or people working part-time because they have no other choice. Totaling all, the unemployment rate was 14.3 percent.

The company Belisto left recycles waste from manufacturing plants -- and while manufacturing has been up, it hasn't been strong enough to generate enough business to keep Belisto employed.

"We are a direct result of how the economy is doing," he said at a recent resume-writing workshop held in Philadelphia.

Except for 10,000 government jobs lost, there was hiring in nearly every broad industry sector, including manufacturing, construction, retail, business and professional services, and health.

Education, typically a job generator, saw a decline, both in the private and public sectors.

In the private sector, including universities, 14,700 jobs were lost. Education jobs funded by state and local governments also took big hits.

The decline in educational hiring in the private sector was a mystery to several economists, who couldn't explain why a sector that had added jobs even during the worst of the recession, was now in its fifth month of job loss.

Nigel Gault, the chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insights, an economic analysis company, wondered if universities had pushed tuitions as high as they could and now had to retrench.

Or perhaps, he said, the downward cycle follows an upswing in hiring responding to "a big surge in demand for educational services from people who thought there were no jobs, so they might as well get more education."

Amid the positive numbers were some disturbing trends. The size of the labor force declined even as the working-age population grew, perhaps signaling underlying uneasiness with the job market.

The median length of unemployment -- meaning the time it takes the majority of people to find jobs -- increased to 17.8 weeks from 16 weeks.

Also lengthening was the average amount of time that people stayed jobless -- a statistic affected by the number of long-term unemployed. The average length of unemployment was 36.9 weeks, up from 35.3 in January.

"The long-term unemployed are being discriminated against," said James John, chief operating officer of King of Prussia-based Beyond.com, an operator of hundreds of job boards in various industries and regions.

Job postings are up 14 percent from January to February and up 75 percent from 12 months ago, John said, all indicating a desire to hire.

The postings show that companies are looking to add recruiters to their human resources departments, John said.

"If they are hiring recruiters, it's a really good sign," he said. "You don't put a lot of extra gas in the car if you aren't going to go on a trip."



Source: (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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