Explaining Southern California's economy

January jobs preview: We could be facing an ugly number

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

A jobs sign hangs above the entrance to the US Chamber of Commerce building in Washington, DC.

Friday morning, the Labor Department will release its jobs report for January. I'll be up at the crack of dawn in Southern California to write up the numbers when they hit, so join me in the darkness with a big cup of coffee or three.

The current U.S. unemployment rate is 7.8 percent. Private payrolls processor ADP, which generates an employment report ahead of the Labor Department, said that the country added 192,000 jobs in January.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect 185,000. Both numbers are higher than what we wound up getting, on a preliminary basis, from the official government data in December: 155,000.

If ADP and the Bloomberg economist brain trust are right, then we're off to a decent start for 2013 — although to really push the unemployment rate lower in a hurry, we need to add 300-400,000 new jobs each month. 

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California sees biggest unemployment claims drop in U.S.

Job-Seekers-Getty

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

First-time unemployment claims fell substantially in California for the week ended October 6, according to the Labor Department.

California has seen the biggest unemployment claims drop in the U.S. That's the good news. Sort of. The bad news, according to the Labor Department, is that first-time unemployment claims rose nationally last week, to 388,000 from the previous week's 342,000 (the lowest since early 2008).

That was for last week. For the week ending October 6 (specific state data is laggy), California saw first-time claims fall by nearly 5,000 — exceeding number two Alabama by...about 4,700. 

The general view of economists is that these numbers, while below the important 400,000 number, don't represent anything close to a healthy labor market. Rather, they show a market moving sideways, with limited layoffs and firings but without much hiring.

A word of warning: This is some pretty noisy data, currently being affected by changes in seasonal hiring patterns. The Labor Department generates a four-week moving average that's less volatile. For the most recent report, it show a pace of initial claims that was little changed, at around 365,000.

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