U.S. companies added 200,000 new jobs in December as the unemployment rate declined to 8.5 percent, the lowest level since February 2009. New jobs were created in transportation and warehousing, retail, manufacturing, healthcare and mining. According to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of unemployed has dropped to 13.1 million people, which represents a continued improvement in the outlook for jobs. A survey of economists forecasted new job creation of between 80,000 and 220,000 for the month-ended December in a survey conducted by Bloomberg. Employers may have been feeling more confident as 2011 came to a close and finally started to hire people in anticipation of improving business conditions and a decreased risk of a double-dip recession in 2012. Job-seekers are also feeling a little better as the unemployment rate seems to indicate that fewer people are having trouble finding a new job, even after having out of work for long periods of time.
It’s Still Not Working For Some People
The picture is improving for most of the unemployed, but as the economy struggles to create, or rather re-create the 8.75 million jobs lost in the recession, the unemployment rate remains high for many groups. The underemployed still account for 15.2 percent of the job-seeking population. These are people who want to work full-time, but have not been able to secure full-time employment. While they currently number 8.1 million, that figure is slowly getting better as more full-time jobs become available. Men face 8 percent unemployment , while women fare slightly better at 7.9 percent, teenagers are dealing with near-record high rates of 23.1 percent, whites account for 7.5 percent, blacks 15.8 percent, Hispanics 11 percent and Asians have 6.8 percent on the unemployed.
A Year of Ups and Downs
For all of the drama we experienced in 2011, the numbers reveal that it was actually better than 2010 and 2009. The average rate of unemployment for 2011 was 8.9 percent, down from 9.6 percent in 2010 and 9.3 percent in 2009. Economists are somewhat puzzled by the data because while it represents an improving trend overall, the fact that it has taken three long years to reduce joblessness, it is still not as robust as most post-war economic recoveries have been. Experts point to the three-year period between 1939 and 1941 as the last time the U.S. economy experienced such a painful job recovery. In 2011, 1.64 million new jobs were added, well above the 940,000 jobs created in 2010 – but you have to look back to 2006 when jobs were being created at a faster rate. The slow, plodding process of recovering from the recession continues amid the first sustained signs that consumer confidence may be improving and is likely to be represented by increased consumer spending in 2012.
What Can Go Wrong in 2012
All eyes are focused on Europe and its ability to contain their sovereign debt crisis that countries like Greece, Italy, Spain and now even Hungary face. The European Central Bank (ECB) continues to work with the European Commission to find solutions using market tools rather than simply bailout the countries or banks that are now in the spotlight. Our own Federal Reserve Bank got in on the crisis in late 2011 when it teamed with the ECB to help stabilize overnight lending for Eurozone banks that could impact U.S. banks. The other big issue for 2012 is of course the U.S. elections and all of the rhetoric, finger-pointing and name-calling that doesn’t really help to improve our economy or put Americans back to work. It may be too early to make predictions for 2012, but it would be nice if one year from now we could look back and say that this is the point at which the economy really turned around for good.