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That was the week that was (in employment news)

December 4th, 2009  |  Connie Eyer

>While the jury is still out on whether we can finally see a light at the end of the jobs-creation tunnel, some of the employment news out this past week wasn’t all bad, for a nice change of pace (how’s that for damning with faint praise?).

Impact of stimulus. The week began with the Congressional Budget Office’s stimulus report card, “Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on Employment and Economic Output as of September 2009.” The CBO reported that between 600,000 and 1.6 million people were employed in the third quarter of 2009 who otherwise would not have been. While this number is in line with original government estimates, an important point to keep in mind is that only $100 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package has actually been spent by the federal government so far. And, the CBO noted, another $90 billion of stimulus will be coming in the form of tax reductions.

“Estimating the law’s overall effects on employment requires a more comprehensive analysis than the recipients’ reports provide,” the CBO said. “Therefore, looking at the actual amounts spent so far (where identifiable) and estimates of the other effects of ARRA on spending and revenues, CBO has estimated the law’s impact on employment and economic output using evidence about how previous similar policies have affected the economy and various mathematical models that represent the workings of the economy. On that basis, CBO estimates that in the third quarter of calendar year 2009, an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States.”

Jobs summit initiative. Next up was Thursday’s jobs summit at the White House, where more than 100 CEOs, academics, small business and union leaders and local officials participated in a half-day brainstorming session with administration officials. President Obama, who indicated that some of the ideas generated could be put to work almost immediately, while others will become part of legislation for Congress to consider, emphasized the need to quickly move forward “on an aggressive agenda for energy efficiency and weatherization.” Other suggestions to come from the session included tax incentives for job creation, improving the credit markets, and the use of community colleges as employee training centers.

In light of the fact that jobs creation will certainly be the key issue in 2010’s midterm Congressional elections, President Obama today continued the theme as he launched a month-long “White House to Main Street” tour in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to be followed by next Tuesday’s invitation-only speech at the Brookings Institution.

Jobless rate: good news/bad news. Tentative feelings of relief greeted today’s announcement by the Labor Department that the unemployment rate fell to 10 percent from a 26-1/2 year high of 10.2 percent in October, as nonfarm employers cut “only” 11,000 jobs. In addition, the government revised job losses for September and October, which showed that 159,000 fewer jobs were lost than previously reported. November’s data was the strongest since December 2007, when jobs increased by 120,000.

Reuters reported that improvement in the labor market last month was broad based, with four sectors, including the government, adding jobs. Manufacturing payrolls fell 41,000 after dropping 51,000 in October. The construction sector shed 27,000 jobs, while the service-providing sector added 58,000 workers. Professional and business services added 86,000, while education and health services increased payrolls by 40,000. Temporary help employment rose by 52,400.

Although government data strongly suggested that the labor market may be close to turning the corner, not everyone was immediately willing to don their rose-colored glasses. As Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Director Larry Mishel noted in Tula Connell’s AFL-CIO Now Blog, he would not interpret this decline as the beginning of an ongoing reversal in the unemployment rate. In fact, he said, the jobs situation likely will worsen for up to the next 12 months. One reason: “There is a backlog of people who dropped out of labor force who will come back in—up to 3 million jobless workers. And when they start looking for jobs again unemployment will rise.”

EPI economist Heidi Shierholz acknowledged that layoffs are still high but have gone way down from where they were. “The hiring of temporary workers has increased for the past three months, which is an indicator that employers are testing the waters to increase staff. But hours need to rise before a recovery for jobless workers is really in sight—and so far, the number of hours worked remains flat, hovering at 33 hours per week since summer—the shortest on modern record,” she said.

So, are we really starting to see some improvement on Main Street? Sure, the economic experts and pundits all have their opinions—but one thing’s for certain: it’s way past time for both the government and private sectors to come up with solutions for putting people back to work in decent-paying jobs. And it isn’t just an election that’s hanging in the balance.