Unemployment remained steady in October, despite a better-than-expected growth in the number of new jobs. The 9.6 percent U.S. jobless rate was unchanged for the second consecutive month, with the addition of 151,000 jobs, the Labor Department said today.
The 17 months leading to October's jobless rate marked the longest stretch of unemployment exceeding 9 percent since the Great Depression. The initial weekly jobless claims report showed an increase of 20,000, to 457,000, for the week ending Oct. 30.
President Barack Obama today called the latest U.S. unemployment figures "encouraging news"but admitted more work was needed to stimulate job growth.
The next likely speaker of the House, Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, reacted to the report today by once again calling for an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, although he conceded that the job gain was "a positive sign."
He also called on Congress to take up the issue when members return for the lame-duck session Nov. 15. "Stopping these tax hikes -- and cutting spending to pre-'stimulus,' pre-bailout levels -- would help eliminate the uncertainty gripping small businesses and show Americans asking, 'Where are the jobs?' that Washington is finally on the job," he said.
Meanwhile, Stephen Bronars, senior economist with Welch Consulting, said, "It appears with all the numbers together, including unemployment rate, hiring numbers, and unemployment claims, it's taking the unemployed a longer time to find work.
"The duration of unemployment is much longer in this recession."
The 159,000 new jobs in the private sector where offset slightly last month by the loss of 8,000 government jobs at all levels.
With today's data, the economy has added more than 1 million private sector jobs this year but lost a net of 7.6 million since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.
The wave of layoffs and hiring freezes across the country are visible in news headlines and reports, but it is tangible and real for the families of the unemployed.
In a national exit poll after Tuesday's election, 31 percent of voters said someone in their household has lost a job or been laid off in the last two years.
Bob Murdock's wife, Candace, was laid off from her teaching job in May, along with three other teachers near their home in Rome, Georgia. She has a doctoral degree, and is an award-winning middle school Spanish teacher. Yet despite submitting job applications in different school systems, she could not find a position for the current school year.
Murdock, 60, is a teacher in a neighboring county and shares the daily aggravations of his wife's job hunting.
"It's just frustrating because I can't go out and create a job for her. It has to come through the schools," said Murdock. "It's frustrating that, in addition to the lost income, she goes from all that achievement to basically nothing."
Many Discouraged Job Seekers Have Given Up
Murdock said his wife's previous salary was greater than his because of her doctoral degree, so their financial situation has dramatically changed. The Murdocks have thirteen children, five of whom are adopted. The oldest is in college.
While Murdock said his wife's unemployment has not altered his day-to-day schedule, it has had a noticeable effect on his wife. "She's the kind of person who desperately needs something to do," he said. "You can tell when she's so stir-crazy she can't help it."
He said his wife has written him e-mails during the work day describing the extent of her boredom. He said he sympathizes with her.
"She's done a lot of cleaning, but that runs out after a while," he said. "Sometimes you can tell the frustration."
The Murdocks said the power shift in Washington after Tuesday's election is a statement that voters believe legislators are not doing enough to help solve the unemployment problem.
"I think the people let it be known that they're fed up with business as usual," said Murdock. "I'm all for term limits. If the president can only serve two terms, these other people don't need to have lifelong careers in politics either."
Murdock is hopeful that his wife's situation will not be protracted, and that she will get a teaching job next semester. Other families have been coping with unemployment for years.
The share of all families with an unemployed member rose to 12.0 percent in 2009 from 7.8 percent in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is the largest percentage of families with unemployed members since the report was first produced in 1994.
Bronars, the economist, said the danger with periods of long unemployment, is that workers become discouraged and stop looking for work. Today's unemployment numbers don't include the long-term unemployed, and according to Bronars, if those people are taken into account, the economy will need to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs "for years to come."