Interest Rate Roundup

Friday, January 09, 2009

December job losses at 524,000; Unemployment at 7.2%; Hours worked at lowest ever

The December employment report was just released. The number of jobs lost was roughly in line with expectations -- 524,000 vs. a Bloomberg forecast of 525,000. I think the markets were probably braced for a higher "whisper" number, so you could argue that was a relief, especially since it was a decline from the upwardly revised 584,000 figure for November.

However, the unemployment rate was higher than forecast -- 7.2% vs. a forecast of 7%. That is the highest reading since January 1993. The long-term chart above shows this indicator going back to the 1940s, and you can see we still aren't doing as badly as we were in the early 1980s. That said, a broader unemployment measure (one that includes people who want full-time work, but can only find part-time, and those who want to work but aren't actively looking currently) rose to 13.5% from 12.5% in November. That's the highest reading for the series, which dates to 1994.

Average hourly earnings were up 0.3% on the month (0.1% better than forecast), while average weekly hours worked were a worse-than-forecast 33.3. That is the lowest in recorded U.S. history (data goes back to 1964 here). The diffusion index, which measures how many companies are cutting jobs against how many are adding them, also weakened again -- to 25.4 from 27.2 in November. That is a record low for the series, which dates back to 1991.


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