January jobs numbers often unusual

Job seekers line up to enter a job fair December 02, 2011 in Portland, Oregon. The number for January showed another improvement in the American economy, but is it as good as we think?

Adriene Hill: Later this morning we'll find out just how much -- or how little -- the job market improved in January. It's always a high stakes number, but this month it may be even more important. In December, employers added 200,000 jobs, signaling the economy was starting to get some legs. The question today: trend continue?

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer joins us now live from Washington with a preview. Good morning, Nancy.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: Good morning.

Hill: So Nancy, what are economists expecting today?

Marshall-Genzer: Adriene, let me just start by saying January is a quirky month as far as the job numbers go. Yes, the December numbers looked really, really good. The unemployment rate has dropped for four straight months; it fell to 8.5 percent in December -- that was the lowest rate in three years.

Eric Talley teaches law at the UC Berkeley School of Law, and he thinks around 150,000 jobs were created last months. But he does stress that the January numbers are fishy.

Eric Talley: One of the problems with going between December and January is there are a lot of seasonal, holiday oriented jobs that can cause those December numbers to look larger than they really are. And so, some of those December jobs go away because they were always meant to be temporary positions.

Hill: What are those temporary positions he's talking about?

Marshall-Genzer: Well, Adriene, of course, people were hired by stores to handle the holiday sales in December. But 42,000 couriers were also hired in December to help ship all the stuff that was ordered for the holidays online.

FedEx and UPS hired drivers and loaders to move all those boxes of gifts. A lot of those jobs were eliminated in January, so we might have to wait until we get the jobless numbers for February to have a clearer picture of the unemployment rate, and where it's headed.

Hill: Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer, thanks.

Marshall-Genzer: You're welcome.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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