Economy added 292,000 jobs last month

Posted: January 11, 2016

The nation's payrolls increased by 292,000 jobs in December, eight years after the beginning of the 2007 recession that crippled America's economy.

The unemployment rate remained at 5 percent for the third month in a row, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday. Not surprisingly, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, who will be visiting a manufacturing plant in Philadelphia next week, liked the report.

"What we see from the data, the job train sped into the new year. We have to make sure every worker has a seat on the train," Perez said in a phone interview.

"What's notable about the job figures is not just the quantity of jobs, but the quality of jobs," he said. "At the beginning of the recovery, the jobs that come back first are the lowest-paying jobs," but lately, he said, more family-sustaining jobs have been added.

Sectors that tend to pay more, including business and professional services and health care, added work. While there was hiring in nearly every industry sector, the Philadelphia region is bracing for the impact of the DuPont Co. cutting 1,700 jobs this month.

In the United States, 7.9 million people remain unemployed, down from 8.7 million a year ago. Of those, one in four has been out of work for more than six months.

Perez said that was too high - typically, when the unemployment rate is 5 percent, the number of long-term unemployed is one in five.

"The scale of long-term unemployed is something we've never seen," he said.

Perez said that most of the recent gains in employment have been the result of the long-term unemployed getting rehired.

Employment in retail was up, driven primarily by automotive sales. But jobs were fewer in shops selling general merchandise, and in clothing, sporting-goods, and hobby stores.

"The biggest issue that drove that was warm weather," Perez said, sounding like a retail executive blaming snow or ice - or in this case, the balmy weather in places like Buffalo, where Perez grew up.

"Coat sales and things that were seasonal were in the tank," Perez said.

Nonstore retailers added employees, the Labor Department report said. Most business activities saw increases, and transportation and warehousing got a big bump upward.

Leisure and hospitality employment grew, but not jobs in gambling or amusement parks. The government, which had been shedding jobs, now is adding them at the federal, state, and local levels.

Perez also pointed to the weekly report on new claims for unemployment insurance. In 2009, in the last official months of the recession, 600,000 people applied. On Thursday, the number was 277,000 - the 43d week in a row below 300,000, marking the longest streak since the 1970s.

"We haven't seen that in decades," he said.



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