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Hiring drops jobless rate below 9%

Job seekers fill out applications for employment during a job fair in San Francisco, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: It looks like -- finally, maybe, hopefully -- the American labor market has gotten the memo about the economic recovery. Not to say there aren't still rough spots. Housing, anyone?

But today's jobs report is a good bit of news with which to head into the weekend. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate in February was 8.9 percent -- first time it's been under 9 percent in two years. And there are some signs that that decline in the rate wasn't just people not looking for work anymore, as it has been the past few months.

Still, economists aren't completely sanguine about how quickly companies are adding jobs. It's still too slow, given how bad the recession was. Marketplace's Janet Babin reports.


Janet Babin: Overall, the economy added 192,000 jobs in February. When you look past the government jobs that were lost, businesses added 222,000. That's got to be good, right?

Dan Greenaus: It's good news, and it's not good news.

That's Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak. On the down side, Greenhaus says wages were flat in February. And so many people remain under-employed.

Greenhaus: In February, there were about 8.3 million working part-time jobs because they can't find a full-time job. Before the recession, that number was closer to 4 million, so it's basically doubled.

Absorbing the part-timers, along with those who've stopped looking for work, is taking longer than usual. Economists call the phenomenon a jobless recovery. This past decade, it's become a trend.

But Harvard economics professor Ken Rogoff says this is latest one has been the worst.

Ken Rogoff: People have been out of work a very long time, they're experiencing psychological problems, of course economic problems, even physical problems.

Under normal circumstances, the economy recovers, and jobs are created. So what's with the jobless recoveries?

Ethan Kaplan: Wow, that's a hard question. Economists really don't have a good answer to that question.

That's Columbia economics professor Ethan Kaplan. He has a theory about why companies aren't hiring: the huge pool of people looking for work, combined with the decline in unions, he says, has shifted the balance of power.

Kaplan: They hire more people.

Less bargaining power means companies would have to pay employees more -- something they're unwilling to do just yet.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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