Nation's jobless rate falls slightly

The unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to 10 percent in November as employers cut the smallest number of jobs since the recession began.
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 5, 2009

The U.S. unemployment rate edged down to 10 percent in November from 10.2 percent the month before, offering fresh evidence that the economy is stabilizing and that employers may soon stop shedding workers.

The number of jobless Americans stood at 15.4 million in November, down slightly from October but still more than double the number at the start of the economic slowdown.

The pace of job recovery remains sluggish enough that President Obama next week is likely to endorse a proposal by top House Democrats to use a portion of the government's $700 billion financial bailout fund for a new jobs creation program.

"The president thinks we should and must do everything in our power to create an environment for job growth and job creation," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday morning. When asked whether Obama will back the use of bailout funds during a speech about the economy next Tuesday, Gibbs said, "It's certainly being looked at. Yes."

About $139 billion of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, remains unallocated. In addition, banks have paid interest and dividends and repaid aid worth a total of about $81 billion, according to the Treasury, and Bank of America said it will soon repay another $45 billion. Congress would likely have to pass new legislation allowing TARP money to be spent on job creation.

After months of dismal employment news, the Labor Department report was greeted with relief at the White House, which has been battling to convince voters and business leaders that it is doing everything it can to ease the plight of Americans searching for work. Obama, who Friday launched a Main Street-style tour of cities across the country in the coming weeks, said that Christina Romer, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, "got about four hugs when she handed us the report."

"Overall, this is the best jobs report we have seen since 2007, Obama said at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Pennsylvania. But, he added, "We've still got a long way to go. I consider one job lost one too many."

The Labor Department's jobs report surprised most financial analysts. Nonfarm payrolls fell by just 11,000, the report said, a sign that companies are beginning to hang on to workers. In October, 111,000 jobs vanished; recently, analysts had expected a much higher number of jobs had been lost in November -- as many as 130,000 or more.

"The numbers are a lot better than we expected," said David Wyss, chief economist of Standard & Poor's. "We're still looking at unemployment rates that are going to be highest since the postwar record in 1982, but this is encouraging . . . . Small negatives are better than big negatives. Flat is the new up."

"It seems the storm has passed," said Bill Cheney, chief economist of John Hancock Financial. "We still have plenty of cleaning up to do, but today's employment report for November is unambiguously good news and provides solid reason for hope as we enter 2010."

"Worries about a jobless recovery should definitely be fading now," he added

Buoyed by the numbers, stocks jumped early Friday, before settling back. They finished the day up modestly.

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