» Signs of overall improvement: Economists say that the modest growth the economy is showing is decent for now but could show much stronger results later in the year — a theory supported by the rise in consumer spending in February. Most notably, some states which were hard hit by the housing collapse are showing signs of life, including Florida (with an unemployment rate that’s fallen below 10 percent in the past year), Michigan (below 9 percent in part because of the auto industry’s rebound) and California (whose 10.9 percent unemployment is nonetheless much better than it was a year ago). Think the trend will keep ticking upward?
» As goes the country, so go the states: Or maybe it’s the other way around? Well, either way, figures released today by the Department of Labor show that unemployment, in addition to falling to its lowest level in two and a half years at the national level, also decreased on a state-by-state basis in all but seven states. This is promising, as it suggests that the uptick in employment is a nationwide trend, and not the result of, say, five or ten states doing abnormally well for one reason or another. Note: The usual disclaimers about the problems with how unemployment is calculated apply.
» However: Don’t get too excited, guys. While the heavily-fluctuating number is certainly better than it’s been in a long time (and the unemployment number is at its lowest level in a long time), the comeback is far from here. Example: During the financial crisis, the U.S. lost roughly 8.8 million jobs; less than a third of those jobs have returned. On top of this, many are still unemployed, and their benefits could run out soon if Congress does not act on the extension for unemployment benefits. Yeah, sorry we have to be such downers, but let’s look in perspective here.
» Explaining exactly what happened: We’ve seen three perfectly valid arguments for why this disparity between slow job growth and deep unemployment decline took place. The first is pointed out by a Gallup chart that shows that non-seasonally-adjusted unemployment is actually at 9.8 percent – suggesting seasonal adjustment is skewing the numbers. The second suggested reason is much more sinister-sounding: Unemployment benefits for so-called 99ers are starting to run out, and they aren’t looking for jobs, meaning that they are no longer covered as part of the total amount. Finally, the weather sucked in January, with snow covering most of the country, so that could be a possible explanation too. So, which one is the case, anyway?
» Is this a corner turned? It’s important to note that while weekly jobless claims figures aren’t exactly the end-all-be-all of unemployment statistics, the number has been headed in downward direction for weeks and is nearly 250,000 less than its peak in March 2009. While the numbers are seasonally adjusted, the Christmas holiday can have an effect on them, so it’s good to keep an eye on this number to see where it goes after the first of the year.