Unemployment Crosses 10% Sooner Than Expected: How Bad Is It?

Unemployment hit 10.2%. Are we officially in deep trouble?

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National unemployment numbers crossed the psychologically significant double-digit line this October, hitting 10.2%. This is the worst figure in 26 years, and it arrived sooner than economists had expected. But given that the appearance of double-digit unemployment has been anticipated for a while, how concerned should we be? Here are the top takes:

  • Feel the Doom  The Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal writes that the 10.2% number is "much higher than estimates of 9.9%." Also, he says, "the workforce actually shrank this month, meaning the big spike wasn't the result of employers looking for work." Want even worse news? "The Real Unemployment Rate," which includes "discouraged workers who aren't actually looking for work ... soared to 17.5% from 17% last month. That's a huge month-over-month jump."
  • Dreadful News, thinks Reuters' James Pethokoukis, calling 10.2% "an extraordinarily bad number." Also, it "makes this week a 1-2 punch for Democrats."
  • Agreed: Politicians Should Be Very Worried  The Economist Free Exchange blog says that, if Tuesday's election results "unnerved" incumbents, "these should get them shaking in terror." This is "only the second time in America's postwar history" that unemployment has hit this level, though the blog notes that it's not entirely unexpected: People have been wondering for a while "whether and when" this would happen.
  • What the Numbers Mean: Unemployment Benefits and More Temp Workers  Daily Finance's David Schepp was one of the ones apparently expecting the news ("It finally happened. After months of anticipation and trepidation ..."), and provides the in-depth analysis. First, the 10.2% figure exceeded the predicted 9.9%. That's because analysts expected 175,000 jobs to be lost, when in fact 190,000 ended up being cut. This only tells us what we already know, Schepp argues: "Lots of people are out of work, and more have joined the jobless rolls." Schepp is not the first to point out that unemployment rates often remain "stubbornly high even after economic recovery begins." Given these numbers, though, the recently passed legislation to extend unemployment benefits seems "more important." Here's his thoughtful offering of the day for the layperson:
Though many people pay keen attention to the overall unemployment rate, Friday's jobs report contains other data that provide better insight into where the economy is likely headed. One of those is the number of temporary workers employers are hiring to keep up with increased demand for their products or services, says Christy Caridi, director of the Bureau of Economic Research at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Such workers aren't given benefits and thus are cheaper to employ. They can also be easily cut.
  • Silver Lining More Grey than Silver  "If you're looking for some kind of good news," says the Atlantic's own Daniel Indiviglio, "the closest you'll probably find is that the economy lost fewer jobs in October than in September. But the losses were still more than in August."
  • The Hidden Number We Should Be Happy About  Peter Boockvar at popular finance blog The Big Picture offers an interesting bit of encouragement: "The one positive was the 34k increase in temp workers, up for a 3rd month and is historically a precursor to permanent hiring assuming economic trends continue to improve." Also, workers in certain sectors need not despair: "Education, health and federal government added jobs."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.