Jobless rate falls to 7.7% in mixed picture

The Be a Hero, Hire a Hero job fair for veterans at the National Constitution Center kept ringing its bell to signal a tentative job offer or a second interview.
The Be a Hero, Hire a Hero job fair for veterans at the National Constitution Center kept ringing its bell to signal a tentative job offer or a second interview. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 09, 2012

The bell kept ringing at the Be a Hero, Hire a Hero job fair for veterans at the National Constitution Center on Friday - each ring signaling a tentative job offer or a second interview.

Maybe it's a reflection of Friday's news from the U.S. Labor Department that the nation's payrolls expanded by 146,000 jobs in November or that the unemployment rate dropped to an unanticipated low of 7.7 percent - a five-year low.

Or maybe it's just another confusing signal in a confusing job market.

Job creation is up, it appears, despite Hurricane Sandy and the nationwide shutdown of Hostess Brands Inc., with many of the Twinkie maker's 18,500 workers out of work.

And it's up even though positive results from the Labor Department's reports in September and October were revised downward by 49,000 jobs.

"The economy continues to improve even if the jobs data seem a bit odd given the problems created by Sandy," said economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economics in Bucks County.

Last month, the private sector added 147,000 jobs.

Government jobs declined by 1,000, with gains at the state level offsetting declines in local and federal government. The U.S. Postal Service cut 4,000 jobs in November.

Hiring was down in manufacturing and construction but up in every other sector, with 52,600 more jobs in retailing in November. Other expanding sectors included the information sector, especially the motion picture and sound recording industries, which added 14,600 jobs.

Responses to Friday's jobs report reflect worries about the impending fiscal cliff, the mix of tax increases and spending cuts that will occur if Congress cannot reach a funding compromise by Dec. 31.

With the department's report showing that 12 million people remain unemployed and 4.8 million of those have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, an advocacy organization for the unemployed pressed Congress to fund extra benefits beyond the 26 weeks funded at the state level.

"Regardless of how it handles other aspects of the so-called fiscal cliff, Congress must renew federal unemployment insurance by the end of the year or a basic economic security floor will be ripped from under two million unemployed workers" who would be eligible for the extended benefits, said Owens, of the National Employment Law Project.

The report also noted that construction employment dropped by 20,000.

"As disappointing as these numbers are, they will only get worse if Congress and the White House allow huge tax increases and spending cuts to occur on Jan. 1," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

Though optimistic about the job fair bell-ringing at the Constitution Center, Mike Ferraro, president of the Be a Hero, Hire a Hero employment company, said he worried about defense cuts on the fiscal cliff. A military reservist, Ferraro is also the command chief master sergeant at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

He said 55 companies expected to talk to at least 300 veterans and their families at the job fair.

From James John's vantage point at Beyond.com, a King of Prussia online job advertising company, the best thing about the fiscal cliff is that the nation is at the edge of it. "Having a path to certainty where there is uncertainty is creating optimism," said John, the company's chief operating officer.

"There has been a pent-up demand to hire," he said. Firms know the cliff issue will be resolved one way or the other, removing some of the ambiguity that causes companies to hesitate instead of hiring.

John said job postings in November were up 100 percent over last year, both nationally and in the Philadelphia area, which portends strong hiring.

That will be helpful, because economists say 100,000 jobs must be created monthly simply to stay even with population growth.

Still unknown is the effect Hurricane Sandy will have on the jobs situation in the future.

"We may not know the full impact Sandy has had on employment in New Jersey for some time," said Brian Murray, a spokesman for the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

But in November, the state received 138,661 initial claims for unemployment insurance, up from 54,444 the previous November; the recent monthly average was less than 30,000 initial claims.


Contact Jane Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or follow @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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