Dismal Job Numbers Point the Way to a Weak Recovery

Economic Forecasts

Dismal Job Numbers Point the Way to a Weak Recovery

The increase in temp workers signals that hiring may be starting to improve.

Bright spots in the October unemployment picture are few. An unemployment rate that soared to 10.2% from 9.8% in September and continued job losses make clear why the recovery will be sluggish through 2010.

But increased hiring of temporary workers is worth noting. It’s up, with 34,000 added during October -- a positive signal, since temp worker employment is an early turning point. It’s an indicator of better times to come in the overall employment picture. Also a green light: continued job growth in health care, where 29,000 workers were added to payrolls in October. Plus revisions to the August and September figures showed that 91,000 fewer jobs disappeared in those months than previously thought.

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Other hopeful signs that layoffs are nearing an end: Filings of initial claims for unemployment benefits continue to steadily decline. And the monthly survey of purchasing managers in manufacturing reported an increase in plans to hire over the next few months to meet rising production.

Still, gains were swamped by the losses. Construction payrolls continued to shrink, down 62,000 in October. Manufacturing payrolls fell 61,000, and retailers shed 40,000 jobs.


We expect the unemployment rate to continue rising into early 2010 before hitting a peak at around 10.5%. That will be close to the post-World War II high of 10.8% posted in 1982.

Soon after, payrolls will start showing small net gains, reversing the trend that has put 7.3 million workers out of jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Managers will want to make sure the recovery is firmly under way before committing to new hires, though, so hiring is sure to be slow, and by the end of 2010, the unemployment rate is still likely to be floating above the 9% mark.

Slack in the labor market is a major reason officials at the Federal Reserve earlier this week stated their intention to keep the benchmark federal funds interest rate near zero. And rising unemployment moved Congress this week to extend benefits for those out of work. Those whose benefits run out by Dec. 31 will be able to get 14 more weeks -- 20 weeks if they live in a state where the unemployment rate is greater than 8.5%.