Meet the Author

Beth Mowry |

Research Assistant

Beth Mowry

Beth Mowry was formerly a research assistant in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Her work focuses on labor markets and business cycles.

12.08.09

Economic Trends

The Employment Situation

Beth Mowry

Nonfarm payrolls beat expectations in November, falling just 11,000, the smallest loss in nearly two years. Strong upward revisions trimmed September and October’s losses by a total of 159,000 jobs, leaving their respective declines at 139,000 and 111,000. November’s improvement was shared by most major sectors, in the form of fewer losses or larger gains over the month. For the most part, net job losses have slowed since January, with declines averaging 691,000 in the first quarter and 428,000 in the second quarter, compared to just 87,000 in the past three months.

The unemployment rate unexpectedly ticked down 0.2 percentage point to 10.0 percent, the largest of four lone rate declines this recession. However, the rate remains elevated beyond levels observed in all but one other post-World War II recession. The number of unemployed persons fell by 325,000, while the number employed rose by 227,000, resulting in a contraction to the labor force of 98,000. The employment-to-population ratio was unchanged at 58.5 percent, matching its lowest point since 1983.

Improvement in payrolls spanned goods-producing and service-providing industries alike, with goods industries shedding 69,000 jobs in November compared to 113,000 in October, and service industries stepping more firmly into the black, adding 58,000 jobs compared to just 2,000 in October. Within goods, 41,000 jobs were shed in manufacturing, and construction employment fell by only 27,000, its smallest monthly decline since August 2008.

Within services, the largest improvements last month came from professional and business services, which added 86,000 jobs versus 38,000 in October, and from trade, transportation, and utilities, where losses were halved to 34,000. Retail trade, specifically, accounted for progress in the latter industry, as its losses diminished from 44,000 to 14,500 in November. Temporary help services added 52,400 jobs in the largest of four successive gains. Employment decline in information picked up to 17,000, while leisure and hospitality showed smaller declines of 11,000. Losses in financial activities have been solid since July 2007, but November marks the industry’s smallest drop (10,000) in over a year. Education and health services, meanwhile, have added jobs every month in the current recession, tacking on another 40,000 in the past month. The government added a meager 7,000 to its payrolls after a 46,000 gain in October.

Labor Market Conditions and Revisions

 
Average monthly change (Thousands of employees, NAICS)

September
current

Revision to September

October
current

Revision to October

November
current
Payroll Employment
−139
80
−111
79
−11
Goods-producing
−95
19
−113
16
−69
Construction
−53
15
−56
6
−27
Heavy and civil engineering
−8.0
4
−13
1
5
Residentiala
−6.1
7
−9
6
−3
Nonresidentialb
−38.3
4
−34
−1
−29
Manufacturing
−41
4
−51
10
−41
Durable goods
−35
4
−37
7
−33
Nondurable goods
−6
0
−14
3
−8
Service-providing
−44
61
2
63
58
Retail trade
−40
5
−44
−4
−15
Financial activitiesc
−11
−2
−10
−2
−10
PBSd
24
21
38
20
86
Temporary help services
17
10
44
10
52
Education and health services
36
19
40
−5
40
Leisure and hospitality
13
15
−36
1
−11
Government
−39
1
46
46
7
Local educational services
−19
−5
33
28
12
  1. Includes construction of residential buildings and residential specialty trade contractors.
  2. Includes construction of nonresidential buildings and nonresidential specialty trade contractors.
  3. Financial activities include the finance, insurance, and real estate sector and the rental and leasing sector.
  4. PBS is professional business services (professional, scientific, and technical services, management of companies and enterprises, administrative and support, and waste management and remediation services.
  5. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The diffusion index of employment change rose 8.1 points, from 32.5 to 40.6, a sizeable step toward balance between industries increasing and decreasing employment. The index has climbed far from its record low of 19.6 in March but remains far below the expansionary threshold of 50.