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Jobs Recovery Will Be a Long Slog

The civilian labor force, which peaked at 154.9 million in October 2008, has declined 1.82 million since, with the most rapid drop coming in the past three months. Half of this decline has occurred in the past three months, a historic extreme that hasn't been seen since the Great Depression.

The Labor Department announced this morning that 589,000 jobs were lost in December. The official unemployment rate remained at 10.0%, as the civilian labor force also shrank by an even larger number, 661,000.

November employment numbers were revised downward to 139,000 jobs gained, changed from the original report of 227,000 jobs gained. The average number of weekly hours worked remained unchanged at 33.2.

A related data point is the number of unemployed, which decreased by 73,000. If you are paying attention, you will be uttering a big "huh?" at this point. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost and unemployment improved? This results from the polling practices of the Labor Deparment. If someone who is not employed has not actively looked for work in the past four weeks, they are not included in either the unemployed ranks or the civilian labor force. The high number of such discouraged workers not being counted is making the reported unemployment rate much better than it actually is.

The headline number that most reports will feature is the total non-farms payroll. For December this was reported as a loss of 85,000. November saw an increase of 4,000 payroll jobs, revised from a decline of 11,000 reported last month. This report had surprised many analysts, who had projected larger declines between 40,000 and 80,000. October payrolls were also revised, but in the opposite direction of the November revision. The net change for the two months of revision was only 1,000 additional jobs lost. The average change for the three months October through December was 69,000 payroll jobs lost per month.

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