Explaining Southern California's economy

CHART: Unemployment rate is 7.8 percent as US adds 155,000 jobs in December

Walmart hiring

KPCC

A line of job seekers wait to get into a Walmart hiring event at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Altadena.

The U.S. economy added 155,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 percent, a very slight uptick from November's 7.7 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The explanation for that slight uptick, by the way, is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revised the November data — so the employment rate for November was 7.8 percent, not 7.7 percent as initially reported. That's why the BLS said that the headline unemployment rate "held steady" at 7.8 percent.

The number of jobs added met what economists were expecting, but came in well under what the ADP report anticipated (215,000) and what I thought we might get, 200,000.

The bottom line is that the economy is still slogging along, growing quite slowly and struggling to break through a 200,000-new-jobs-per-month pace that would indicate growth in the 2 to 3 percent annual range, rather than the 1 to 2 percent range we have now.

For all of 2012, the average for new jobs each month was 153,000, far from the 300,000 to 400,000 needed to rapidly lower the unemployment rate. The labor participation rate — basically, the number of people who are actively in the workforce — is at levels not seen since the early 1980s, a sign that many people have given up on looking for work.

On the positive front, the November revisions showed that 161,00 new jobs were added in that month, a decent improvement on the 146,000 that was first reported.

Also, a significant portion of the new jobs in December — 30,000 — came in construction. That beat out manufacturing by 5,000 jobs and is an indication that the housing recovery, so important to the California and Los Angeles regional economy, is gaining momentum.

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