If anyone was looking for more proof that the economy is stalled, the Labor Department provided it this morning.
Economists were hoping to hear that the economy created 50,000 to 60,000 jobs. Instead, as they say on Wall Street, they got a bagel. Zero jobs, meaning the unemployment rate is stuck right around 9.1 percent.
The markets did the obvious: stocks fell steeply on the news, and gold jumped more than two percent, as the blogs and cable channels buzzed with talk of a double-dip recession. Again.
But to us, this isn't a market story, it's a story of human beings; Americans who are increasingly desperate to pay their rent or mortgages, to buy food and other essentials.
Kelly Conklin owns a cabinetry business in northern New Jersey. Business has been slow; his customers are more cautious than usual, and they contract smaller projects. Conklin's cut his employees' pay, asked them to forego paid vacations, all in the effort to keep them on the job.
Conklin told us that he won't expand until the economy improves and he doesn't see that happening anytime soon. He's part of a local business alliance, and he said few, if any, of its members are hiring. We asked him what he sees as the main impediment to improving the economy. Washington D.C. is the problem, he said, and stressed that the debt ceiling debate made him feel even more uncertain about the economy and his own situation.
Conklin did have a piece of good news for one person. He usually employs ten workers, but he had to lay off one of his cabinetry "finishers" recently because he didn't have enough work. Lately, however, Conklin's been hired on enough small projects that he feels safe bringing this man back on. Conklin described the man as a normally taciturn individual, but said he expressed feelings of relief at getting back to work.
That makes Conklin's company score one layoff versus one hire.
Net zero, in other words. Just like the rest of America.