Jobless rate undercuts signs of recovery, rises to 9.8 percent

By Peter Whoriskey and Nathan Rott
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 4, 2010

The unemployment rate jumped to 9.8 percent as hiring slowed in November, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, again indicating that the economic recovery is wobbly.

It was the fifth-highest monthly unemployment rate reported since the beginning of the downturn.

"Today's jobs report could not have been worse for unemployed Americans and a struggling economy anxious for better news," said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

More than 15 million people remain unemployed.

But Wall Street investors shrugged off the report, and stocks climbed slightly, buoyed in part by positive signs this week on consumer spending.

Indeed, in some ways there appear to be two very different faces of the economy.

This week, pending home sales jumped a surprising 10 percent; sales by U.S. automakers climbed by double-digit percentages; and many of the nation's largest retailers reported better-than-expected sales last month.

Moreover, the news for those holding jobs was relatively positive. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 1.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

"The lesson the last year has been the increasing dichotomy between the jobless and those who have been able to hang onto their jobs," said Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

He said the wage increases were "even pretty good by post-war standards."

But Keith Daughtry, 48, a carpenter for Clark Construction until last April, said that if the economy is recovering, he sees little sign of it. He was standing outside of the D.C. Employment Services office on H Street NE on Friday.

"They say [the economy] is up, but to me it's still down," he said. "Walk down this street and tell me how many hiring signs you see in windows."

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