As I was listening to NPR this morning, I heard a couple of economists opine that when the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report for November, jobs added could be as low as 75,000 for that month, and unemployment might also edge up again as a consequence. The general consensus appeared to be that there was “no way” November numbers could approach the October level of 171,000 because of the hurricane, low consumer confidence, and business concerns about the looming fiscal cliff. But when the latest report hit the wires at 8:30 AM Eastern, its contents flew in the face of these prognostications: jobs created for November are reported at 146,000 and unemployment edged down slightly from 7.9 to 7.7 percent. In fact, a closer look at revisions to the October numbers shows a drop from 171,000 as originally reported, to an adjusted figure of 138,000. Barring future adjustments for this month’s numbers, then, it looks right now like November actually beat October by a modest margin of 8,000 jobs.
For the information sector, some signs of improvement were present: whereas unemployment was 225,000 or 7.4 percent for this sector one year ago (November 2011), it dropped to 187,000 or 6.8 percent for November 2012 (Table A-14). That puts information sector unemployment below the general unemployment number for this month, and shows a modestly strengthening information jobs situation. The strongest growth sectors centered around retail (+52,000 for clothing, accessories, general merchandise, and electronics and appliance stores) and the wholesale trade (+10,000) as you’d expect in the run-up to the year’s busiest shopping season. This may portend a corresponding dip in those same numbers in January, however, once the shopping season reaches its frenzied conclusion during the sales immediately after Christmas.
Maybe we just got a handful of hard candies in our Christmas stockings, instead of the expected lump of coal? Given this surprising but still modest uptick in employment figures, the markets are expected to react positively today. Let’s just hope there aren’t other unpleasant employment surprises in store. For now, though, there seems to be a small ray of sunshine on that landscape, even though my advice to IT workers still remains “Stay put. Be cool. Hunker down.” We aren’t out of the woods just yet, and it isn’t clear if the repast at Grandma’s will be the usual Christmas ham, or a steaming mess of hamburger helper instead.