COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

November jobs report shows 7.7% unemployment rate and other surprises

A bit more than a month ago, the arrival of the monthly employment report from the Department of Labor was more than just another economic indicator. The report carried extra importance because it was also a political event providing extra fodder for the candidates vying for the top office in the country.

With the election completed and the focus aimed squarely at the "fiscal cliff," Friday's jobs report seemed to be just another blip on the financial radar screen. But the report did have some surprises.

The Department of Labor said the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November, the lowest rate since December 2008. At the same time, U.S. payrolls rose by 146,000 in November, well above expectations. A big chunk of the increase was attributed to retail hiring for the holiday season.

At the same time, the report showed a sharp downward revision in the October numbers. Originally the department reported an increase in hiring of 171,000 jobs. That was revised down to just 138,000.

Just about every economic report, especially about jobs, has recently been impacted by an act of nature.

“Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the job market in November, slicing an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls," Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi said in response to the latest employment data from ADP. "The manufacturing, retailing, leisure and hospitality, and temporary help industries were hit particularly hard by the storm. Abstracting from the storm, the job market turned in a good performance during the month.”

ADP's National Employment Report issued Wednesday saw private-sector payrolls increase by 118,000 in November, down from 157,000 in October.

ADP said more than half of the September jobs — 66,000 — came from large businesses, a reversal from previous months when the biggest job creators were small and medium-sized companies.

There are signs the number of jobs available locally and across the country are increasing. A survey from Simply Hired, a company operating a large job search engine, said its nationwide job openings increased in November for the sixth time in the last seven months.

It also reported job competition held steady, with three unemployed persons for every one job opening.

In San Diego, Simply Hired reported 39,201 job openings in November, down 1.4 percent from October but up 5 percent from November 2011. The ratio of job seekers to job openings in San Diego improved from four to one, to three to one.

The top hiring companies in San Diego, according to Simply Hired, are Qualcomm; Sharp HealthCare; General Atomics; Scripps Health; and University of California, San Diego.

“We have seen consistent job opening growth during the latter half of this year, which is a good sign that our economy is headed in the right direction,” said James Beriker, CEO of Simply Hired.

But it comes as no surprise that there are still headwinds slowing down the labor market. In the same week the Department of Labor was releasing its data on November employment, a Chicago-based consulting firm was issuing a cautionary report on company hiring plans, in particular, layoffs.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas said employers announced plans in November to cut 57,081 workers from their payrolls. That is up 20 percent from October and 34 percent from November 2011.

In many ways the increase in planned layoffs was the result of the bankruptcy of the company famous for its Twinkies. Hostess Brands, after a difficult labor confrontation, announced it is shutting down its operations and liquidating assets. As a result, 18,500 workers have been dismissed and are headed for the unemployment line.

“The approach of Christmas is not likely to provide any relief from large-scale layoffs," Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger said. "In fact, the end of the year tends to see heavier downsizing activity, as companies make last-minute attempts to meet earnings goals or adjust payrolls based on the budget for the coming year.”

He pointed to the announcement Wednesday by Citigroup to cut 11,000 from its payroll of 261,000 workers worldwide.

But the Christmas season brings something else: hope. A study from Charles Schwab finds the No. 1 wish by 46 percent of Americans is to see the nation's unemployment rate decline.

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