Job­less rate drops to low­est level in 9 years

Un­em­ploy­ment falls to 4.6%, but the growth is un­even

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Jef­frey Sparshott

U.S. em­ploy­ers hired at a steady clip in Novem­ber while the job­less rate fell to its low­est level in nine years, a broadly up­beat per­for­mance that could mask un­der­ly­ing soft spots in the la­bor mar­ket.

The U.S. has added more than 15 mil­lion jobs since the la­bor mar­ket bot­tomed out in early 2010. But those gains have been un­even across the na­tion and across busi­ness sec­tors, push­ing swaths of peo­ple to the side­lines and by many mea­sures leaving the econ­omy short of pre­re­ces­sion norms.

“The la­bor mar­ket is in bet­ter shape than at any point in the re­cov­ery,” said Jed Kolko, chief econ­o­mist at job site In­deed. “But we haven’t solved many of the longer-term chal­lenges.”

Even with those chal­lenges, the lat­est em­ploy­ment re­port con­tin­ued a long stretch of steady im­prove­ment and sug­gests the la­bor mar­ket is tight­en­ing, keep­ing Fed­eral Re­serve of­fi­cials on track to in­crease short-term in­ter­est rates when they meet Dec. 13-14.

U.S. em­ploy­ers added a sea­son­ally ad­justed 178,000 jobs in Novem­ber and the un­em­ploy­ment rate fell to 4.6 per­cent, the La­bor Depart­ment said Fri­day. While the rate was the low­est since Au­gust 2007, it re­flected some peo­ple find­ing jobs while even more dropped out of the work­force.

In­deed, de­clin­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the la­bor force is one of the na­tion’s more wor­ri­some eco­nomic trends, high­light­ing cross­cur­rents that have lifted the prospects of many Amer­i­cans while cre­at­ing new chal­lenges for oth­ers.

For ex­am­ple, the mix of job cre­ation has been heav­ily weighted to­ward the ser­vice sec­tor. Man­u­fac­tur­ers have shed 54,000 jobs, and min­ers cut 87,300 in the last year. Among tra­di­tion­ally blue-col­lar pro­fes­sions, con­struc­tion has been per­haps the strong­est with 155,000 new jobs in the last 12 months.

But the much larger pro­fes­sional and busi­ness-ser­vices sec­tor — ev­ery­thing from com­puter-sys­tems de­sign to temp work­ers — added 571,000 jobs, and health care cre­ated 407,000 in the same span.

Ex­press Em­ploy­ment Pro­fes­sion­als added 38 full-time staff over the past year — in­clud­ing tech, risk com­pli­ance and cus­tomer ser­vice work­ers — and is look­ing to hire about 20 more at its Ok­la­homa City head­quar­ters. To at­tract and re­tain em­ploy­ees, the staffing-ser­vices firm reg­u­larly re­views wages, with some de­part­ments re­cently re­ceiv­ing an an­nual bump of 7 per­cent to 9 per­cent, and has added new ben­e­fits to its com­pen­sa­tion pack­age. One of the lat­est is a pay­ment of $5,000 per de­pen­dent to help cover child-care costs.

“It’s cer­tainly the right thing to do,” chair­man and CEO Bob Funk said. “And com­pa­nies that have good ben­e­fits ... at­tract some bet­ter peo­ple. Not only that, it helps us re­tain. It’s a two-pronged ben­e­fit to the com­pany.”

Res­tau­rants have added nearly a quar­ter-mil­lion jobs in the past year. With the la­bor mar­ket get­ting tighter for ser­vice work­ers, some are able to quickly ad­vance.

More broadly, wage gains across the U.S. have been out­pac­ing in­fla­tion, though they stum­bled last month.

Av­er­age hourly earn­ings for pri­vate­sec­tor work­ers de­clined 3 cents from Oc­to­ber, or 0.1 per­cent, to $25.89 in Novem­ber. Earn­ings were up 2.5 per­cent from a year ear­lier, a step down from Oc­to­ber’s 2.8 per­cent, which was the strong­est an­nual wage growth since June 2009.

A broad mea­sure of un­em­ploy­ment and un­der­em­ploy­ment, which in­cludes those who have stopped look­ing and those in part-time jobs who want full­time po­si­tions, was 9.3 per­cent in Novem­ber, down from 9.5 per­cent the prior month and the low­est level since April 2008. The rate av­er­aged 8.3 per­cent in the two years be­fore the re­ces­sion.

“It’s a solid re­port that has a cou­ple of weak spots,” said Gus Faucher, deputy chief econ­o­mist at PNC Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices.

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