The discouraging jobs report released by the U.S. Labor Department today is "a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight" but jobs created by the "clean energy" sector can help put Americans back to work, President Obama said in a speech at the White House this afternoon.
Obama unveiled a new, clean-energy initiative that he said would create 17,000 jobs through $2.3 billion in tax credits. The credits would go toward 180 projects in 40 states. Obama also spoke of $5 billion in private-sector, energy investments that could create tens of thousands of more jobs.
"Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future, jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," the president said. Bolstering the country's clean energy technology, he added, will also reduce a dangerous dependence on foreign oil and fight the threat of climate change.
The Labor Department reported this morning that U.S. employers shed 85,000 jobs last month, leaving the unemployment rate steady at 10 percent. There was at least one bright spot: The government also revised its November jobs report, finding that the economy actually gained 4,000 jobs, the first monthly job gain since the recession began.
"The overall trend of job loss is still pointing in the right direction," Obama said, but added, "We have to continue to explore every avenue to accelerate the return to hiring."
Obama's assessment of the country's employment situation echoed that of Treasury Department chief economist Alan Krueger, who said earlier today that "recoveries do not move in straight lines and, instead, proceed in fits and starts."
"Today's employment report is a good illustration," he said.
"The bottom line from the payroll side in today's report," Krueger said, "is the trend towards smaller job losses is intact. But we have not yet moved to producing the sizable job gains that we need."
No one knows that better than Andy Harvey.
When he walked into a Fort Worth, Texas, department store in November seeking employment, he was hoping for something permanent.
Recently restructured into a retirement for which the 66-year-old former human resources executive was neither financially nor mentally prepared, he took what he could get; a part-time position in the ladies footwear department. The sales job was supposed to last only through the end of the holiday shopping season but Harvey parlayed the Christmas stint into a year-round fit.
"There happened to be an opening and, presumably, they liked me," Harvey said. "I always tell people never to overlook seasonal work. You never know, it can lead to something permanent."
Some who have found work in recent months were part of the annual spate of retailers' holiday hiring, often viewed as only a fleeting economic booster shot.
Howard Penney, a research analyst at New Haven, Conn.-based Research Edge, said that while all the data is not in yet, the retail holiday season was not expected to be exceptionally robust. Most holiday helpers won't get offered a longer-lasting opportunity.
"Retail hiring is not going to be particularly robust," Penney predicted. "Companies across the board are learning to do more with less."
But not all seasonal workers end up getting tossed out to the curb with the Christmas tree.