WASHINGTON (CN) – Unemployment fell to 10 percent after the job market stabilized in November, breaking a two-year string of heavy losses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday. “Employment was essentially unchanged,” Commissioner Keith Hall said at a Joint Economic Committee hearing.
Obama referred to the report in his Pennsylvania speech as “the best jobs report we’ve seen since 2007.” He credited his administration’s actions to ease credit markets, cut taxes for the middle class and advance the Recovery Act.
The drop marks an improvement from the 10.2 percent unemployment in October, but Democrats and Republicans are debating whether the numbers indicate a long-term improvement.
The market lost 11,000 jobs last month, 115,000 fewer than forecast, compared to 111,000 jobs in October and an average 300,000 jobs lost each month since the recession began in December 2007.
Republicans downplayed the improvement and warned that the United States still faces a shaky economic future. They said increases in taxes or efforts by the government to pump more stimulus funds into the economy could lead to another downturn.
“The long term unemployment rate continues to grow,” said ranking member Kevin Brady of Texas.
Democrats cautiously applauded the new job data and attributed the stemmed losses to the Recovery Act passed in February.
“People may want to downplay it, but it is a big deal,” Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummins said.
New York Chair Carolyn Maloney was quick to note that job losses have steadily fallen over the past six months.
“Under the Obama administration, we’ve been trending in the right direction,” she said, adding that job loss was the worst in January 2009, when 700,000 jobs were lost.
When Brady cautioned Congress “about any kind of end-zone dance,” Maloney replied, “We certainly are not dancing in the end zone.”
Lawmakers acknowledged the seeming paradox of improved unemployment in the face of no net job increase.
Commissioner Hall pointed to a slight discrepancy between the household data, where the bureau gets its rough unemployment estimate, and the non-farm payroll data, where the bureau gleans the hard numbers, including last month’s 11,000 job loss.
Because unemployment counts only those who have looked for work in the past four weeks, a growth in people looking for jobs – spurred by the hopeful numbers – could mean that unemployment numbers won’t improve as fast as job growth, Hall explained in an interview.
More than 15 million Americans remain unemployed, after the recession claimed more than 7 million jobs since late 2007.
Some economists say the nation will need an additional 10.7 million jobs before it regains pre-recession employment rates. Hall said it would take three years to hit that mark, assuming record job growth experienced in the 1990s.
Maloney said the “road to recovery will be long.”
According to the report, Asians had the lowest unemployment, followed by whites at 9.3 percent unemployment, Hispanics at 12.7 percent and blacks at 15.6 percent.
Americans without a high-school diploma had a 15 percent unemployment rate in November, compared to 10.4 percent for high-school graduates. Nine percent of those with some college experience were unemployed, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a 4.9 unemployment rate.
Jobs were lost in the construction, manufacturing and information sectors, but gained in the health care and temporary help services industries.