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Jobs report brings rare good economic news

George Hernandez looks at job openings at the Foothill Employment and Training Connection on Feb. 3, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif. According to report from the Labor Department, the U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs in January, dropping the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent.

Kai Ryssdal: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say in response to things turning around, it might actually be happening. Because we got some good economic news this morning. It came in the guise of the January unemployment report. Last month, for the second month in a row, American companies created more than 200,000 new jobs. Calling it an economic head of steam might be too strong, but that is pretty good.

From Washington, John Dimsdale has the details of a jobs report that was better than expected.


John Dimsdale:  Last month companies created over 250,000 new jobs. The fastest pace in nine months. Unemployment dropped two-tenths of a percent to 8.3 percent. That's close to a three year low.  

Ted Wieseman: Across the board, just about every key aspect in the report was solid and better than expected, so not really a weak spot in the report among the key details we most closely follow.

With these numbers, Morgan Stanley economist Ted Wieseman says forecasters could raise their predictions for economic growth this year.

Ted Wieseman: We’ve gotten some definitely more encouraging results over the course of the past week with this employment report, plus pretty solid initial indications for January retail sales and much better than expected auto sales. 

Manufacturing companies were responsible for 82,000 new jobs over the past two months. Chad Moutray is chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers. He says orders for new products are strong.    

Chad Moutray: This really shows there’s definitely a rebound starting to take place in manufacturing. We’re seeing a lot more activity in recent months.

Even better, revisions added another 260,000 jobs to last year’s tally. And the number of hours worked in January continued a steady climb. Hourly wages were higher. Apparently, employers have exhausted their ability to respond to demand growth with only productivity gains. Now, they have to hire more workers.  Economists are using terms like super, exceptional and even game changer to describe today’s report.

Mitchell Hartman: Hold on a sec.

Dimsdale: Mitchell? Mitchell Hartman? What are you doing here? Are you trying to rain on this parade?

Hartman: John, I figure for every silver lining, there’s got to be a cloud. So I’m here to bum you out.

Dimsdale: Uh oh.

Hartman: There is continued lousy news buried in this oh-so-upbeat employment report.

George Wentworth: The report’s starting to tell kind of a tale of two cities.

That’s George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project.

Wentworth: The average length of unemployment for an American worker is over nine months. There’s still way more unemployed than there are available jobs.

And it’s been getting worse in the last year. It’s especially bad for older workers, says Carl Van Horn at the Rutgers Center for Workforce Development.

Carl Van Horn: Their skills tend to atrophy, they are less valued by employers, they don’t want to train them, they’re worried they’re going to not get much of a return on investment if they do train them.

Which is why the over-50s average more than a year on the unemployment line.

And for all the ‘super’ ‘exceptional’ ‘game-changer’ stuff John heard from the economists today, with clouds continuing to hover on the economic-growth horizon for the rest of 2012, this level of job creation might be as good as it gets.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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The main reasons it is harder for older people to find employment is that they (I'm only 35) expect higher pay and benefits than the younger workers or the "cheaper forein born labor" they themselves helped to institutionalize, when they were younger, for the sake of "getting ahead." A couple of years ago, I was speaking to a morbidly obese older woman who was making over $80,000 a year who could not tell me anything about her job but told me that she would never lose her job because she was "well liked by her co-workers." I figure that now productivity is actually in demand and being the office or worksite "clown" is not. Therefore, when someone tells me all they've done in the past or how long they've been somewhere to justify their employment, I tend to get the feeling this person has no intention of really working hard in the future. Add healthcare costs due to rampant youthfull alcoholism coming home to roost and you have a recipe for employees that in essence will become long-term liabilities.

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