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Is There Any Good News in the October Jobs Report?

November 7, 2008
The latest government employment report is in, and even given the tenor and tone of the times, this one is particularly grim. The raw numbers are frightening: The Labor Department said that job losses are accelerating and hit 240,000 in October, driving the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent, the highest since March 1994. Scarier still is that the unemployment figures for September were revised from the initial 159,000 jobs lost to a whopping 284,000. Since August, according to The New York Times, “the economy has lost 651,000 jobs--more than three times as many as were lost from May to July. So far, 1.2 million jobs have been lost this year.” The losses in various sectors are equally scary. Jobs in goods-producing industries fell by 132,000, and within that sector, manufacturing lost 90,000 positions. Temporary employment dropped by 50,000, while construction was down 49,000. Retail lost 38,000 jobs, while business and professional services dropped by 45,000. Financial sector jobs were down 24,000 (amazingly low, in my mind, given the turmoil on Wall Street), and leisure and hospitality businesses lost 16,000. The sectors gaining jobs? No surprise there: Health services gained 26,000 and government employment rose by 23,000. The rhetoric from the analysts who track this stuff is almost as bad as the numbers. Joshua Shapiro, the chief U.S. economist for global economic consulting firm MFR Inc., told The Wall Street Journal: “ History tells that once the labor market weakens as much as it has in the past several months, job-shedding takes on a life of its own and tends to persist for a long while. We expect the employment data to be dreadful for many months to come.” Ian Shepherdson of High Frequency Economics was more pointed and succinct: This jobs report, he told the Journal, is “in short, horrible in every way.” It’s clear to me, as it is probably clear to you, that we are in for a long, rough ride. I’ve been saying for a number of months I didn’t buy the theory from some people, including a former colleague of mine, that the economic numbers weren’t really all that bad and that this was all hyped by a national media that was “rooting for a recession.”  No, this isn’t media created, but it is an incredibly turbulent time that will take every bit of management skill and savvy you have in you to get through it. I know what you’re thinking: Is there ANY good news in all of this terrible data? Well, yes, there is another way to look at these numbers, and it comes from Tig Gilliam, CEO of Adecco Group North America, a temporary staffing company. “While the job market has felt the impact of these broader economic trends, it is important to put today’s results into perspective,” he noted. “[Although] October’s unemployment rate rose to 6.5 percent, [this shows] that over 93 percent of the country continues to be employed despite the economic uncertainty. [And] while this is the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen since the mid-1990s, it is still lower than the 7.8 percent recorded during the 1990-1991 downturn and the 9 percent experienced during the mid-1970s.” In other words, as bad as it seems today, it’s not as bad as we’ve seen in the not-too-distant past. And Gilliam probably mirrored the feelings of many people when he offered this hopeful nod to the future: “With the election now behind us, the new executive and legislative representatives at the federal and state levels have the opportunity to remove the uncertainties related to future employment, health care and tax policy that have plagued business leaders and hiring managers for much of this year. We look forward to seeing a policy focus on job growth, education and employment regulation that makes for a competitive U.S. business environment in the increasingly global marketplace for talent and workforce solutions.”