Job-hunt time shrinks in US from record high


Vicki Cook, 52, landed a job two weeks ago at a truck­ing com­pany af­ter ap­ply­ing for 50 po­si­tions in al­most four months. "It was a bless­ing," said the Okarche, Ok­la­homa, woman, whose pre­vi­ous job had been elim­i­nated.

For 13 mil­lion out-of-work Amer­i­cans, record spells of job­less­ness are abat­ing. The me­dian du­ra­tion fell to 16 weeks in Jan­uary from 25 weeks in June 2010, La­bor De­part­ment data show. Fewer peo­ple com­pete for each open­ing as hir­ing ex­pands, and per­sis­tent long-term un­em­ploy­ment is start­ing to mend.

A job seek­ers wait to see re­cruiters at a job fair in New York. Em­ploy­ers added about 160,000 jobs in Fe­bru­ary, and the un­em­ploy­ment rate re­mained at 7.9 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to me­dian es­ti­mates of econ­o­mists sur­veyed by Bloomberg News ahead of a La­bor De­part­ment report March 8.

The progress sup­ports Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Ben S. Ber­nanke's view that Amer­ica's la­bor mar­ket re­mains flex­i­ble and isn't suc­cumb­ing to hys­tere­sis, or per­ma­nently higher job­less­ness, sim­i­lar to Europe in the 1980s, said Dale Mortensen, a pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at North­west­ern Univer­sity in Evanston, Illi­nois, and 2010 No­bel lau­re­ate. That sug­gests con­tin­ued mon­e­tary stim­u­lus can bring about a faster heal­ing.

"There is lit­tle threat that ag­gres­sive mon­e­tary pol­icy will be in­fla­tion­ary," said Mortensen, who pi­o­neered the study of how work­ers search for jobs. "The mar­ket will re­turn to nor­mal as house­hold con­sump­tion does. That will still take more time but seems to be hap­pen­ing." Less slack in the la­bor mar­ket will raise de­mand for tem­po­rary staffing com­pa­nies, said Jef­frey M. Sil­ber, BMO Cap­i­tal Mar­kets se­nior an­a­lyst in New York, who rates Man­power Inc. (MAN), On As­sign­ment Inc. (ASGN) and Robert Half In­ter­na­tional Inc. (RHI) as "out­per­form."

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