How did the job market fare in December?

Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup, provides a preview of December's unemployment.

Tess Vigeland: The unemployment picture in the U.S. has been getting slightly better, but it's still high at 8.6 percent. The government's December jobs reports is due tomorrow, and those who traffic in predictions say it will be OK.

But we thought we'd offer a preview of what tomorrow might bring. For that, we turn to Attitude Check. Today in the partnership with Gallup, we talk jobs -- whether companies are hiring and how Americans feel about it. Frank Newport is Gallup's editor-in-chief. Frank, good to talk with you.

Frank Newport: Thank you. Good to be with you.

Vigeland: So I know that Gallup measures daily, weekly and monthly unemployment and you guys use pretty much the same method as the government does. So what is the number for December?

Newport: Well 8.5, how's that? More importantly, it is the same as we measured in November. We interview about 30,000 people each month, the government about 60,000. So our best estimate would be on Friday the government will report very little change from that 8.6 that they reported in November.

Vigeland: Well I know that another thing that you look at is job creation, not necessarily job loss and unemployment. So ell us about that index and where it sits now.

Newport: We deputize our little respondents all over the country to be our little spies out there at companies. Big companies, little companies, whoever we interview, we say is your place of employment hiring, expanding the size of its workforce, staying the same, or firing and shrinking the size of its workforce -- and we think it's an excellent indicator because people usually have a sense for what's going on where they work. And for the month of December that's at a plus-14, so that means by a margin of 14 percent, more people are telling us workers that their companies are hiring than firing and that's up from a year ago when it was up plus-10. So that's looking fairly stable, but obviously a lot better than it has been in previous years.

Vigeland: Well then is this, I dunno, a situation where there's no bad news? So is that good news?

Newport: Well a lack of change certainly is better than things going south and deteriorating. If you had to look for bad news, consumer confidence is still in the negative range. There's a little good news there because that's up. In December it was up from where it had been a year ago. And more importantly, right now in the middle of this first week of January, we're seeing numbers creeping back up. So right now, at any rate, a lot of our signs I would interpret as positive as far as the economy is concerned.

Vigeland: Is it normal at a point and time like this for consumer confidence to perhaps lag behind what seems to be growing good news?

Newport: Yes, it is. And also one thing we really noted last year is consumer confidence is affected by more than hard numbers. But after all, we live in an environment where politics are huge. And last July and August we saw consumer confidence really tank and that was a result, we think, of all the contracted debate over the debt ceiling. So other things are affecting it. So other things are lagging behind the real indicators right now, but it's starting to pick up. So Americans' psyches, so to speak, may be catching up with the somewhat modified better news on jobs.

Vigeland: All right. Frank Newport is editor-in-chief at Gallup. Our partnership with them is called Attitude Check. Looks like our attitudes are going up a little bit. That's always good news. Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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