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What latest jobless rate figures mean

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Tess Vigeland: Wasn’t good, but coulda been worse. That was the verdict of one of those economic prognosticating outfits, as we head into this holiday weekend with the latest job figures. The unemployment rate actually fell two ticks to 9.5 percent. But that’s mostly because a lot of people got discouraged and gave up looking for a job, which means they’re not even counted anymore. Payrolls dropped by 125,000 jobs. But most of that was because temporary census workers are done. So what’s the big picture here?

We asked Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman to suss it out for us.

Mitchell Hartman: Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution has seen plenty of recession-recovery cycles since he became an economist in the late 1970s. He says the employment hole we’ve got to dig out from this time is the deepest yet.

GARY BURTLESS: Somewhere between eight and nine million.

Just how hard will it be to get back to break even? Burtless says consider two of the biggest employment sectors: Construction and manufacturing. Construction lost a quarter of its work force, and a year into the recovery, it’s still shrinking because of the glut from the housing boom. Manufacturing employment shrunk by more than 15 percent in the recession.

BURTLESS: We know from the post-war record that manufacturing doesn’t necessarily come back.

Factories have started hiring again, but Burtless thinks some of the lost jobs will never return. You can blame cheap foreign competition and productivity gains for that. The bright spots in the recession have been health care, education and government, but even some of that is faltering.

BURTLESS: State and local governments face very dire budget situations, and I’m afraid a lot are probably going to shrink their payrolls.

The federal government, of course, already has — with the end of temporary census work, which kicks half-a-million or so mostly-white collar workers onto the unemployment rolls.

LARRY LOMAX: For me, it’s back to the full-time job hunt.

Fifty-one-year-old Larry Lomax looked for almost a year before finally landing a job with the census in January. He stayed six months and finished up today using his previous experience as an insurance executive and IT manager to move up the ranks. He says there was solidarity at the census.

LOMAX: Some of my colleagues along the way, we all cheered for each other as people found jobs and went on to full-time regular employment.

Though they were few and far between. Lomax kept sending out resumes the whole time and didn’t get a bite in what is still a fiercely competitive job market.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

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