Finding the actual tipping point to create jobs

Unemployed wait in line at a government employment office in Madrid, Spain.

BOB MOON: Let's look deeper at those unemployment numbers with Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, on the line with us from Chicago now, as she is every Thursday. Good morning, Diane.

DIANE SWONK: Good morning.

MOON: Isn't that 400,000 level kind of the tipping point -- more jobless claims than that is bad, but below that generally good?

SWONK: Absolutely. The good news is that we've moved back to the 400,000 level. That is a level that's more consistent with the 100 to 150,000 in terms of job growth, which would be up significantly from the virtual zero we saw in June. We're not going to see that in July's numbers, but as we move through the summer we'll begin to see it -- that's the good news, of course. The bad news is that's still basically treading water. That's not enough to take down the unemployment rate, so even as we get back to those kinds of payroll levels, we'll still be a very tough labor market, and the continuing claims, which is sort of a misery index out there, continue to rise.

MOON: But the market is indicating it's still worried. How does this jibe with the notion that the economy might be slowing down?

SWONK: Well, I think the issue is that the economy has slowed down -- revisions of GDP really underscored that. And what we're seeing out there is that our ability to keep the economy going through stimulus measures, whether it be fiscal or monetary stimulus, are starting to run out. You see the Bank of Japan trying to do more measures today. Switzerland trying to do central bank -- trying to do more measures, today. Many people are looking to the Fed to carry the burden, stimulating the economy further. But, frankly, the bullets in our arsenal for fighting the slowdown in growth are starting to run out.

MOON: Very quickly though, does that mean that central banks are back in the financial driver's seat?

SWONK: They certainly are back in the financial driver's seat. I'm not sure they ever left although they weren't visible for quite a while. And that is a difficult situation for them because they don't have as many options as they once did, open to them. In fact, the European Central Bank has said basically we're not going to try to do much today.

MOON: Diane Swonk at Mesirow Financial, thanks.

SWONK: Thank you.

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