There was a bit of good news for the U.S. economy Friday as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment edged down from 10.2 to 10 percent in November, with fewer jobs lost in the previous two months than anticipated. The latest monthly figure was discussed at a congressional hearing on Friday as President Obama welcomed the news but said he is still not satisfied:
At a hearing of the bipartisan Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both major U.S. political parties cited the November unemployment figure as welcome progress.
However, they also noted the economic pain many of their constituents are still feeling in an economy struggling with deep recession.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Michigan Democrat, said Americans at all levels but notably the middle class continue to struggle. "While parts of our economy are clearly stabilizing, with the Dow Jones over 10,000 again, it is clear that other parts of the economy are still struggling. We need to make sure that all Americans, not just the folks who happen to work on Wall Street, feel that we are digging ourselves out of the hole,"
Despite a generally upward trend in recent months on Wall Street, President Obama, administration officials, and economists continue to caution that employment will lag behind other indicators of economic recovery.
Keith Hall, Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said the November figure, which still represents 15.4 million Americans out of work, is the lowest monthly job loss since the beginning of the U.S. recession in December 2007, and follows moderating figures in three previous months.
But in an economy that has lost jobs for 23 consecutive months, Hall noted that long-term unemployed continued to grow, rising by 293,000 to 5.9 million, with little change in the number of Americans employed part-time but seeking full-time work.
Democrat Carolyn Maloney asked him about economist's predictions that it would take 10.7 million jobs created to return the country to full employment:
MALONEY: "Assuming that jobs are created at 2.8 million jobs per year, the best job creation of any administration, and this was achieved by former President Clinton, how long would you expect it to take us to get back to full employment?"
HALL: "Well, without offering an opinion on that 10.7 million jobs, at that rate though, it would be about three years."
Opposition Republicans responded to the latest figures by focusing on specific sectors that continue to lag and renewing their assertions that steps President Obama has taken since he came to office, such as the $787 billion stimulus, have had little impact on the economy.
Kevin Brady is the Republican co-chair of the committee. He said while the November figures are good news, there is not much more to celebrate. "We can't celebrate a 10 percent unemployment rate, especially when the long-term unemployment continues to grow in very troubling numbers," But Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings noted what he called a major improvement with job losses going from 700,000 per month at the start of the recession to 11,000 in November.
"The report we received this morning is a clear indicator that the economy is slowly returning to growth." In an appearance in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Friday, President Obama called the November jobs figure "modestly encouraging" but said he will not be satisfied until there is sustained significant improvement.
"We have still got a long way to go. I consider one job loss one job too many and as I said yesterday at a jobs conference in Washington. Good trends don't pay the rent. We have got to actually grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can," he said.
The president had held a so-called jobs summit at the White House this week seeking support from business and union leaders for his economic recovery efforts.
Republicans responded with their own event on Capitol Hill where like-minded economists such as Douglas Holtz Eakin, former adviser to Senator John McCain who lost the 2008 election to President Obama, questioned his approach to recovery. "Job creation in the United States is something that small businesses,entrepreneurs and the private sector will do but they cannot do it if they are burdened by a legacy of debt and the prospect of higher taxes to pay off that debt and that is the most troubling aspect of the policies this administration is pursuing," he said.
In testimony to Congress this week, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke agreed with economists who caution that despite hopeful predictions of moderately strong economic growth unemployment is likely to remain high well into 2010.