The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the December 2011 Employment Situation Summary, reporting a 200,000 increase in nonfarm employment and a national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent. Total number of unemployed (13.1 million) and the unemployment rate continued to trend downward in December. It is good news for the Obama administration but the numbers must be considered with some caution as they are likely affected by seasonal hiring during the Christmas holiday.
The unemployment rate for adult men decreased to 8.0 percent but showed little improvement among Black men, the hardest hit among adults during the economic downturn. The unemployment rate for Black men is 15.7 percent and for Black teenagers (16 to 19 years old) it is 42.1 percent. Black men and young adults are being left behind and face considerable challenges in finding daylight in the supposed recovery. The unemployment rate for Black women is 13.9 percent. Despite the good news on the jobs front, the one constant is racial disparities in the labor market. The overall white unemployment rate is 7.5 percent compared to 15.8 percent for Blacks, a phenomenon of 2X the white unemployment rate that has persisted for decades. The unemployment rate for white en is 7.1 percent and 6.8 percent for white women; with the latter faring best among all adult groups. The unemployment rate for veterans mirrors the national rate.
The gain in jobs was principally in the private sector as government employment changed little. Many states and municipalities are facing significant deficits, and the government workforce has been significantly pared back; falling by 280,000 jobs over the year. In December employment in transportation and housing rose by 50,000 and manufacturing employment increased by 23,000. The retail sector added 28,000 jobs last month but some of those jobs were likely temporary and tied to hiring for the Christmas holiday season. December was another good month for hiring in the health care sector, adding 23,000 jobs, including 10,000 tied to employment in hospitals. Health care employment has risen by 315,000 jobs over the year. Another positive sign was the increase in employment (24,000) in the leisure and hospitality sectors, which could be tied to improving consumers’ outlook or the holiday season. Construction employment remained flat, as did jobs in business and professional services.
There was also good news on wages. Last month average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 4 cents, to $23.24. Over the past 12 months there has been an increase of 2.1 percent in average hourly earnings.
The December BLS reports comes as the 2012 presidential campaign kicks off in earnest with the Republican presidential primaries as GOP candidates have made the economy the centerpiece of their attacks upon the Obama administration. While few economists see the last two months of economic activity as proof that a full recovery is in effect, the numbers do suggest the economy has turned a corner and gives the White House some breathing room as the President launches his re-election bid.