Economists React: Employment Report Almost Indescribably Terrible

Economists and others weigh in on the substantially worse-than-expected decline in nonfarm payrolls, and the increase in the unemployment rate.

This is almost indescribably terrible. In the past six months the U.S. has lost 1.55 million jobs, almost as many as were lost in the whole 2001 recession, which included 9/11 and the two months after. The pace of job losses is accelerating alarmingly, as this report attests, with steep drops in most sectors but the biggest deterioration in services down 370,000 in November after 153,000 in October. Note education/health and government added 59,000, so core private payrolls even worse than headline. Desperate. Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics

Quite simply, there was nothing good in this report. Even though some might take comfort in the relatively modest uptick in the jobless rate (from 6.5% to 6.7%), this is actually quite misleading. In fact, the household surveys measure of employment came in at -673,000, an even sharper plunge than seen in the payroll figures. The jobless rate was actually restrained by a large decline in the labor force as we had suspected It is worth noting that the November payroll figures would have been even worse were it not for a special factor. We estimate that the direct and indirect effects of the resolution of the Boeing strike probably added about 35,000 employees to manufacturing payrolls in November. David Greenlaw, Morgan Stanley

The September-though-November period saw an average 419,000 average monthly job losses, as the recession deepened. More timely unemployment insurance claims data suggest no let up in the current pace of job losses. While the unemployment rate rose only 0.2 percentage point to 6.7% in todays report, the labor force shrank by 422,000 in November and 237,000 over the September-November period. While this suggests a discouraged worker effect, the severe worsening in labor markets has been relatively recent, with employment declines in January-August deviating little from the -82,000 per month average. There is little doubt that labor slack is rising rapidly, and the unemployment rate will jump in the months ahead. Steven Wieting, Citigroup

The bottom drops out of the labor market History tells that once the labor market weakens as much as it has in the past several months, job-shedding takes on a life of its own and tends to persist for a long while. We expect labor market conditions to be dreadful for many months to come and consequently for consumer spending to continue to decline. The U.S. consumer, which for so many years was the global engine of growth, will remain a significant drag on economic activity in coming quarters. Joshua Shapiro, MFR Inc.

A shockingly weak report that suggests the fourth quarter could see a drop in real GDP of 5% or more at an annual rate. The large downward revisions to employment in September and October suggest that the economy was even weaker than we thought when the credit crunch intensified (indeed the employment report for September, which now shows a larger than 400,000 decline in jobs, was surveyed in the week before Lehman Brothers failed).,, These data will spur the calls for a massive stimulus plan, increase the chances of a rescue package for the domestic auto industry. RDQ Economics
Jobs plummeted again in November with deep and widespread job losses. Much of this collapse in jobs was due to the collateral effects of the credit crunch which is only slowly being repaired. So far this year, 1.91k jobs have been lost with half of those jobs being lost in the past 3 months as the downward spiral has accelerated. The recession is intensifying and the economy is rapidly shrinking. Stephen A. Wood, Insight Economics

This was much worse than was expected and represents wholesale capitulation. The threat of a widespread depression is now real and present. Peter Morici, University of Maryland
Compiled by Phil Izzo, WSJ