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New Jobs Numbers Point To Fragile Recovery

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The economy may be improving, but the job market is not. Job losses worsened in September as the country shed more than a quarter-million jobs. The nation's unemployment rate ticked up to 9.8 percent. President Obama spoke about the news today, just after returning from Copenhagen.

President BARACK OBAMA: Today's job report is a sobering reminder that progress comes in fits and starts, and that we're going to need to grind out this recovery step by step.

SIEGEL: Here's more from NPR's Frank Langfitt.

FRANK LANGFITT: John Silvia is chief economist with Wells Fargo Securities. And this morning, he captured the reaction of many to the September jobs report.

Mr. JOHN SILVIA (Chief Economist, Wells Fargo Securities): Well, that wasn't any fun. Holy cow.

LANGFITT: Holy cow, indeed. Two hundred and sixty three thousand jobs disappeared in September. That's about 60,000 more than in August. In other words, after steady improvement, job cuts are going in the wrong direction, and those losses are deepening even as analysts believe the economy is beginning to grow. Silvia says that suggests the U.S. is almost certainly entering�

Mr. SILVIA: A jobless recovery. Moderate economic growth may be 2.5 percent or so - growth not fast enough to generate the kind of jobs that most people are going to come to expect and especially, what politicians would like to see.

LANGFITT: For the nation's unemployed, who now number more than 15 million, a jobless recovery would be brutal. The number of unemployed would continue to grow, and people would remain out of work even longer. After today's report came out, Vice President Joe Biden tried to reassure people that employment will improve.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: Today's bad news does not change my confidence in the fact that we are going to recover. We will be producing jobs.

LANGFITT: But when? The signs in today's job report aren't encouraging. Employers usually increase workers' hours before hiring new ones. But last month, companies actually cut hours. Another harbinger of job growth is temporary employment.

Ms. HEIDI SHIERHOLZ (Economist, Economic Policy Institute): Employers will hire temp workers first to sort of test the waters of a recovery.

LANGFITT: That's Heidi Shierholz. She's an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a labor think tank in Washington. But Shierholz noted that last month, temp services still shed more than a thousand jobs.

Ms. SHIERHOLZ: We need to see temp workers turn up first before we will see recovery in a larger economy.

LANGFITT: Shawn Carroll may be on the leading edge of that change. He's the chief financial officer with Crown Services. It's a temp company in Ohio, which provides workers to hospitals, auto suppliers and other manufacturers. Carroll says clients began asking for more workers a few months ago, but he doesn't expect demand to return to pre-recession levels until next summer.

Mr. SHAWN CARROLL (Chief Financial Officer, Crown Services): I don't see people going back and spending like they used to.

LANGFITT: Carroll says during the recession, clients learned to operate with smaller workforces, and they're reluctant to add more workers until they see clear signs of recovery. Carroll feels that way, too.

Mr. CARROLL: I know in our case, I decreased hours at headquarters, and we're still getting the job done.

LANGFITT: Do you see any point when you would begin hiring again directly for the company?

Mr. CARROLL: Yeah, well, I mean, there's been managers that have mentioned my sales are up. I need to start thinking about another coordinator.

LANGFITT: What do you say?

Mr. CARROLL: Well�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARROLL: �I say, you know, if you think you can do it with what you have, I would give that a shot first.

LANGFITT: Other chief financial officers are taking the same approach. In a recent poll by Duke University and CFO Magazine, most companies said it would take several years for employment to return to pre-recession levels.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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