Is weather to blame for weak jobs report?

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, file photo, Luis Mendez, 23, left, and Maurice Mike, 23, wait in line at a job fair held by the Miami Marlins, at Marlins Park in Miami. Employers added a scant 74,000 jobs in December after averaging 214,000 in the previous four months. The Labor Department said Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, that the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent, its lowest level since October 2008. But the drop occurred mostly because many Americans stopped looking for jobs. Once people without jobs stop looking for one, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, file photo, Luis Mendez, 23, left, and Maurice Mike, 23, wait in line at a job fair held by the Miami Marlins, at Marlins Park in Miami. Employers added a scant 74,000 jobs in December after averaging 214,000 in the previous four months. The Labor Department said Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, that the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent, its lowest level since October 2008. But the drop occurred mostly because many Americans stopped looking for jobs. Once people without jobs stop looking for one, the government no longer counts them as unemployed. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Posted: February 09, 2014

The weather outside is frightful, and January's job numbers aren't so delightful. Workers have had no place to go because of the snow, and the snow, and more snow.

Even so, the economy added 113,000 jobs, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday, and the unemployment rate fell slightly, to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent.

"Weather was a big factor," said Ryan Sweet, an economist with Moody's Analytics in West Chester.

But, he said, it was an even bigger factor in December. That's when weekend snowstorms kept consumers indoors for the already-short holiday shopping season.

And, Sweet said, the weather next week will also affect February's report. How that story plays out depends on whether there is a repeat of last week's icy weather.

That's because the second week of the month is when the Labor Department conducts employment surveys. Answers given then affect the month's results.

This week's ice storm is eclipsing, at least in this region, the storm in Washington over whether to extend emergency unemployment benefits to assist people who have been jobless for more than six months.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have extended benefits to the long-term unemployed. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, used a procedural tactic that will allow Democrats to raise the issue again.

Across the nation, an estimated 1.7 million people have been affected by the Dec. 31 end of a program that provided up to 47 weeks of federally funded benefits to people whose state benefits had expired, usually after six months.

The number of people unemployed for more than 27 weeks has fallen to 3.6 million from 4.7 million a year ago. When the recession began, the number of long-term jobless barely topped a million.

Helping the long-term jobless to become reemployed has become a White House priority, said public policy professor Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Van Horn attended a White House conference on the topic in January.

Based on his research, he said about half of those unemployed for more than six months have actually been unemployed for more than a year.

"Many more drop out of the labor force," discouraged by their inability to find jobs, Van Horn said.

"It's still such a significant issue for us," said Tony Petrucci, an assistant professor of human resources at Temple University, who has studied long-term unemployment.

In 2013, job growth averaged 194,000 a month. January's results are raising concerns that the economy might be slowing.

Some anomalies mystified watchers of the monthly report.

For example, construction employment was up by 48,000 jobs despite January's weather. That may have been a reflection of relatively mild weather in January's second week, when data was collected.

Another oddity was a sharp decline of 22,000 jobs in stores selling sporting goods, books, and music.

Employment increased in mining, construction, manufacturing, professional business services, and leisure and hospitality.

Education and health services, which grew steadily through the recession, fell by 6,000 jobs. The government shed jobs and retailing declined.


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

www.inquirer.com/jobbing

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