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US unemployment rises in another indication of weak economy

Published time: February 01, 2013 17:38
Edited time: February 01, 2013 21:45
People stand in a line that stretched around the block to enter a job fair held at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), on March 21, 2012 in New York City.(AFP Photo / John Moore)

People stand in a line that stretched around the block to enter a job fair held at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), on March 21, 2012 in New York City.(AFP Photo / John Moore)

The US unemployment rate is on the rise again, with 12,3 million Americans with no job even according to the official statistics, bringing the unemployment rate to 7.9 percent.

The unemployment rate rose from 7.8 in December to 7.9 percent in January, leaving 100,000 more Americans unemployed , according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly report.

In a news release, the BLS called the new figures “essentially unchanged” – even though unemployment rose despite the fact that 169,000 new Americans dropped out of the labor force in the past month. BLS labels as “not in the labor force” people who have retired on schedule, taken early retirement, or simply given up looking for work.

The report optimistically describes the areas in which new jobs were created, but does not emphasize the areas in which they were lost.

More jobs were added in retail trade, construction, health care and wholesale trade, but 14,000 were lost in transportation and warehousing industries. And while the private sector was primarily responsible for adding new jobs, government jobs decreased by 9,000 in January.

While Americans are optimistically celebrating the addition of 157,000 new jobs in January, this number is significantly less than the 196,000 jobs that were added in December, indicating that job growth is on the decline while hundreds of thousands still continue to drop out of the work force, effectively disappearing from the official statistics.

The latest unemployment data comes just two days after it was announced that the US economy unexpectedly took its biggest plunge in more than three years, contracting last quarter at an annual rate of 0.1 percent and indicating a new level of vulnerability for the economy.

“Month after month we see the same thing,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “High unemployment and even more debt.”

BLS data indicates that 8.5 million Americans left the labor force during President Obama’s first term, bringing the number of Americans not in the labor force from 80.5 million to 89 million.

The increasing unemployment rate also comes at a time when millions of Americans continue to request food stamps and there is a lingering desperacy for jobs. In a three-day period in January, about 7,000 people applied for 200 new jobs at a New Mexico Target store – even though each candidate’s chance of being hired was less than 3 percent.

Applications for unemployment benefits rose sharply during the first and last weeks of January. Applications increased by 38,000 in the last week of January and the number of people continuing to claim benefits rose by 250,000 in a one-week period last month.

But despite the meager data, some Americans continue to express optimism about the January reports. Depending on the numbers one chooses to examine, the BLS report can perceived as a good indicator of job data in the US if focus stays away from the 169,000 Americans who are no longer in the work force.

And a growth in retail and construction might not be as progressive as it may seem.

“There’s a lot of growth in the low wage sector, but not enough in the middle and upper ranges,” said University of San Diego economist Alan Gin. “It sort of characterizes what’s happening with the economy right now. It’s the big hollowing out of the middle.”

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