Unemployment Down to 10%, But Will It Last?

The econoblogger consensus: things are looking up, but we're not out of the woods yet

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Just-released data shows that the unemployment rate has dropped to 10.0% from 10.2% last month, seasonally adjusted. It also shows that employers cut 11,000 jobs, far less than the 100,000-plus expected. Everyone agrees the report is good news, but warning abound of the political and economic downside. The consensus: Thing are looking up, but we're not out of the woods yet. President Obama is making employment a top domestic initiative in December, and is discussing jobs in Allentown, Pennsylvania, at 11:45am today. Can Obama look forward to more good news, or is this just temporary relief?

  • Questions Remain  The Atlantic's Megan McArdle warns that though it's "basically unalloyed good news" for the economy, "That's not to say that we're out of the woods yet. Presumably we got a little boost as seasonal hiring ramped up--and whlle the numbers are seasonally adjusted, the adjustments are never perfect.  We also face a lot of unknowns, like what will happen as commercial real estate starts to unravel and foreclosures ramp up again. Even larger questions, such as 'when will the Fed start getting serious pressure to tighten?' are even harder to answer."
  • Obama's Not Celebrating  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes, "Don't expect too much celebrating from the White House today." He explains, "the White House has jumped the gun on trumpeting the appearance of green shoots before...when those shoots turned out to be bacterial outgrowths from the existing infection."
  • Worse Before It Gets Better  Reuter's Felix Salmon calls the report "genuinely encouraging" on several fronts, but says it won't likely last. "[I]t's still more likely than not that unemployment is going to top out well above the 10.2% rate from which it fell this month. It’s great to have a little bit of holiday cheer in the last payrolls report of 2009. But winter still hasn’t started yet."
  • Don't Over-Credit Stimulus  The National Review's Samuel R. Staley says the "shift in momentum" isn't due to government spending. "If the economy is recovering, it probably has a lot more to do with effective monetary policy than the spending side of the stimulus package. Only 30 percent of the stimulus funds have been allocated, so federal spending really can't claim much in the way of economic success." He adds, "meaningful job creation will require jump starting private investment that adds real economic value. That's not a matter of redistributing dollars and spending in the economy. It's about re-aligning investment priorities."
  • Understanding The Stats  Time's Justin Fox notes that the month-to-month numbers are only estimates. "These numbers are subject to revision. Last month's payroll job loss number of -190,000 has been revised down to 111,000. September's nasty -263,000, which had me wonderingif the job market had started getting worse again, has been revised down to -139,000. So this month's good news could be revised upward into really good news or downward into disappointment," he writes. "The unemployment rate doesn't get revised but tends to jump around a lot."
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