Hope in the jobs numbers

By Felix Salmon
November 4, 2011
employment report; you just can't see it by looking at the headline numbers.

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There’s some encouraging news buried in this month’s employment report; you just can’t see it by looking at the headline numbers. Black unemployment is plunging, down to 15.1% in October from 16.7% in August. The number of long-term unemployed fell by 366,000 to 5.9 million, which is a decline of 2.2 percentage points. The broad U-6 unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage points, to 16.2%. And note those upward revisions to previous months, too: August’s zero is now +104,000, September was revised up to +158,000, and the twelve-month average is +125,000. Not good enough, but pointing in the right direction.

No one’s opening any champagne this morning: the levels here are still atrocious. But at least there’s reason for hope that the economy is still above stall speed; I, for one, am much more sanguine about the prospects for a double-dip recession than I was a couple of months ago. If the jobs situation isn’t getting worse, that means America’s still growing, and that the recession’s still over. And it’s a lot easier to accelerate a recovery than it is to turn around a decline.

Easier — but not easy. Not when the central bank and the executive both look powerless. The base-case scenario is still that things are going to be very bad through 2012. And of course if Europe implodes, they’ll be worse. Still, the economy has managed to gain 342,000 jobs in the past three months. And that’s not nothing. Even if you adjust for population growth.

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