NAROFF ECONOMIC ADVISORS, Inc.
Joel L. Naroff
President and Chief Economist
INDICATOR: November Employment Situation
KEY DATA: Payrolls: 120,000; Private Sector: 140,000; Unemployment Rate: 8.6% (down 0.4 percentage point)
IN A NUTSHELL: “It was nice to see the unemployment rate come down but if we are to see it continue to fall, firms will have to hire a lot more people than they did in November.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The November employment report was another of those good news/bad news releases. On the positive side, the unemployment rate fell sharply to its lowest level since March 2009. That was the teeth of the recession and the rate was racing upwards. Unfortunately, some of the decline came from a large drop in the labor force and that is not a sign of growing confidence that jobs are available. That said, the labor force numbers are fairly volatile so I will withhold judgment. Regardless, this large a decline in the unemployment rate is usually not sustainable unless job gains are being added robustly and that just is not the case. Hiring remains less than hoped for and as usual it was restrained by continued cut backs in the public sector. The construction sector is still shrinking though there have been other indications that activity has improved. Weakness in nondurable goods manufacturing almost completely offset increases in durable goods hiring. We did see the retail, finance, insurance, temporary help, education, health care and restaurant sectors add workers. So far this year, the private sector has added about 1.7 million new positions while the public sector has cut about 260,000 jobs. Earnings were down a touch and that does not bode well for income growth.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Private sector additions to payrolls were better than initial expectations but not nearly enough to keep the unemployment rate from continuously declining. Indeed, I would not be surprised if the rate ticks up next month. But I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole the employment report as there is little doubt that the sharp drop in the unemployment rate will be the biggest news in the media. That should lead to some firming in confidence. Also, the solid Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales numbers, combined with improving vehicle sales point to consumers slowly opening their wallets. That is the signal businesses need to start ramping up hiring. Actually, that could be happening already and the data are simply not keeping up. Both the August and September job gain numbers were revised upward by about 100,000 from the original estimates. Over the past three months, the private sector has added an average of about 160,000 workers and that is likely to be revised upward as well. While that pace is not great, it is much better than is commonly perceived. It is also in hailing distance of the rate needed to keep the unemployment rate coming down fairly consistently. But we are not there yet and it will require continued consumer spending and clearing the European financial and coming economic disaster hurdle before that does occur. All said, this is a good report that holds out hope for better things to come but not so great that anyone should think the labor market is healthy and all is well with the world.
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