Snap analysis: Oddities abound in disappointing jobs data

By Emily Kaiser

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – The surprisingly weak U.S. employment report on Friday included a host of oddities, some of which may be reversed in the coming months.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the loss of 28,100 retail jobs last month, a period that included the start of the holiday shopping season. Most retailers reported stronger-than-expected holiday sales, which suggests they may be inclined to hire more aggressively in December.

The jump in the jobless rate to 9.8 percent won’t sit well with the White House. Although many economists had anticipated unemployment would drift higher as those who had been discouraged before resumed looking for work, the rise was only partly explained by returning job seekers.

For the Federal Reserve, which has been second-guessed over its decision to buy $600 billion in bonds to try to spur faster growth, the weak reading may quiet some critics.

STRANGE BREW

* The sharp drop in retail jobs is puzzling. The Labor Department said department stores and furniture stores were the biggest culprits, accounting for about half of the 28,100 decline in jobs.

* Recent readings on consumer spending have been encouraging and early holiday sales results were stronger than expected, so retailers may be in a hiring mood in December.

* The jobless rate among those with at least a bachelor’s degree jumped to 5.1 percent in November from 4.7 percent in the previous month, and is now at the highest level since at least 1992.

* This is unusual because college graduates have had much less difficulty finding jobs than those without four-year degrees.

* The jobless rate for college graduates is still roughly half that of those with only a high school diploma. However, high school grads’ jobless rate dipped a tenth of a percentage point to 10 percent in November and has come down sharply in the past year.

USUAL SUSPECTS

* Some of the weakness came from a familiar source — budget-crunched local governments, which cut 14,000 jobs last month. That has been a trouble spot for much of this year as municipalities struggle to close budget gaps.

* The labor force participation rate held steady at 64.5 percent for a second consecutive month. This is the lowest since the mid-1980s.

* The participation rate for men remained at 70.9 percent for a second month, matching the lowest on records going back to 1948.

* The low labor force participation rate reflects poor job prospects and could also be a source of rising unemployment in the coming months. People must be actively seeking work in order to be counted as unemployed, so if some of those who have dropped out of the labor force rejoin, that can nudge the jobless rate higher.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Snap analysis: Oddities abound in disappointing jobs data