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Unemployment picture is improving, slow and steady

Job applicants register before entering the 'Denver Hires Job Fair' on December 5, 2011 in Denver, Colo. The unemployment numbers for December come out tomorrrow.

Steve Chiotakis: Some positive news on the jobs front to start 2012. Fewer people lined up for unemployment benefits last week. Down to 372,000 -- which, if sustained, could drop the jobless rate. Payroll company ADP says private employment jumped by nearly twice what was expected in December. And another report -- from job placement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas -- said planned layoffs fell last month.

Stuart Hoffman is chief economist with PNC Bank, and he's with us now from Pittsburgh with the latest on those stories. Hey Stuart.

Stuart Hoffman: Hello.

Chiotakis: There seems to be, of course, some pretty good news all around today on the jobs front. How much can we read into today's data, and are we seeing something of a turn around?

Hoffman: I think we are seeing an encouraging turn around in the job market. There's a private report on payroll jobs suggesting a big gain -- one of the biggest gains in a long time -- of over 300,000 in the month of December. That may overstate things a bit, but fewer people are being laid off, and fewer people are filing for unemployment claims. And with more hiring, it does appear that the job market is improving. Consumer confidence is up; a little better job market is probably what underlies a lot of that, as well as lower gasoline prices and higher stock prices.

Chiotakis: So let's talk about that employment report that we're going to have tomorrow -- the monthly report from the Labor Department. What did today's numbers, do you think, tell you about what we may see tomorrow? Any predictions?

Hoffman: Yes, our prediction even before we saw the number today was 200,000 jobs -- all in the private sector, as governments continue to lay people off. The unemployment rate took a big drop from October to November. It could back up a little bit. It was 8.6 in November, we think it could edge back up to 8.7 in December. But last year in December, it was 9.4 percent. On a year-over-year basis, the report is a lot better. So we think the official report will show a pretty good increase in the job market in the month of December, with people earning a little higher wages and therefore making a little more income to help finance some of those better holiday purchases that they apparently made.

Chiotakis:Well, we're going to see if you're right. Stuart Hoffman, chief economist with PNC Bank. Stuart, thanks.

Hoffman:You're welcome.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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