Today the nation woke to the best employment news in two years.According to the US Department of Labor, job losses slowed significantly in November, down to 11,000 as unemployment eased slightly to 10%.
Construction and manufacturing and continued to cut jobs, but the decline there was offset by increases in health, business, education and the professions. Time on the job has gone up as well, from a record low of 33 hours per week per worker in October to 33.2 hours last month. Temporary workers increased by 52,000 for the fourth consecutive monthly gain.
According to White House Chair of the President’s Council on Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, “Today’s employment report was the most hopeful sign yet that the stabilization of financial markets and the recovery in economic growth may be leading to improvements in the labor market.” When the recession began, employers cut jobs faster than at any time since the mid 70’s. Productivity increased as companies made do with fewer workers. Now that demand is inching up, business can’t keep up without rehiring.
The news caught most economists by surprise, who expected severe employment declines to continue into the spring. The brighter picture was welcomed by the 15.4 million Americans who still remain unemployed, with 6 million out of work for half a year or longer. These Americans are still wrestling with delinquent mortgages, the prospect of unfunded health emergencies, and tight credit.
Yesterday President Obama convened a Jobs and Economic Growth Forum at the White House, bringing together economists, labor and business leaders. As President Obama put it “We’re looking for fresh perspectives and new ideas.“ He cautioned that when it comes to depending on more government stimulus “our resources are limited.” In contrast to Clinton era budget surpluses, the government’s budget deficits now exceed $1 trillion a year.
The emphasis in the forum was on growing employment in green jobs, exports, infrastructure, small business and investment. President Obama will reveal a set of new proposals next Tuesday. One proposal will be to offer incentives to homeowners and small businesses to weatherize buildings, a plan to increase construction employment while decreasing energy consumption. The proposal is modeled on the automobile “cash for clunkers” program.
Today President Obama heads to Allentown, Pennsylvania a rust belt city once dominated by manufacturing, which now only employs 15% of local residents in that sector. The President intends to tour the Allentown Metal Works and meet with people hard hit by the economic downturn.
In the meantime, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives are hard at work on a jobs bill that would extend unemployment benefits, increase infrastructure spending, and aid small businesses. Congressmen are particularly vulnerable to popular discontent over the economy because the entire House is up for reelection next year. Democratic control of Congress hangs in the balance.