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Issue Pulse: Is the Economy Improving?

Unemployment Is Down, but Our Work Isn’t Done

SOURCE: AP/Mark Lennihan

People talk with a recruiter, center, at a December 2011 job fair sponsored by National Career Fairs, in New York.

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Unemployment stood at 8.5 percent for December 2011, continuing a declining trend: Americans faced 8.7 percent unemployment in November and 9 percent unemployment in October. In fact December marks the fourth month in a row that unemployment numbers dropped. They haven’t been lower since February 2009.

But we can’t afford to be complacent. We have to confront both the persistent inequality in employment as well as the country’s long-term unemployed.

This issue pulse looks at recent responses to the falling unemployment numbers from some leading economic experts. They make clear that the work we still have to do can’t be ignored.

Encouraging signs

“I think it’s a very positive report, unambiguously. Generally you have a lot of cross currents, but this suggests that the job market and the economy are gaining broader traction.”

Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist, January 2012.

“We see these trends as sustainable. This is the real deal for the U.S. economy, at last.”

Ian Sheperdson, of High Frequency Economics, January 2012.

There’s still work to do 

“Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the recession that began at the end of 2007. Most importantly, we need to extend the payroll tax cut and continue to provide emergency unemployment benefits through the end of this year, and take other steps the President has proposed in the American Jobs Act.”

Alan Krueger, White House Chief Economist, January 6, 2012.

“Near-record high long-term unemployment remains a persistent challenge since job growth has remained very slow throughout the labor market recovery, and 2011 was no exception. The share of those unemployed for 27 weeks or more averaged a record high of 43.8 percent in 2011, which still stood at 42.5 percent in December. The average duration of unemployment rose to 40.8 weeks in December 2011 from 34.2 weeks in December 2010, while jobs expanded and the unemployment rate fell.”

Dr. Christian E. Weller, associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and Center for American Progress Senior Fellow, in an article for The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, January 6, 2012.

“When unemployment was surging, the youngest U.S. workers, the oldest, those without college degrees, and men as a whole all suffered disproportionately. Last year, those groups—whose unemployment rates still exceed the national average—had better success than others in finding jobs, according to Labor Department data released Friday.

“Many found low-paying jobs in technology firms and as health care technicians, machinists, autoworkers, hotel and store clerks, and waiters.

“A big exception was African Americans, who were especially hard hit by the recession. Their unemployment rate didn’t budge in 2011.

“All told, about 13.1 million Americans remain unemployed. About 2.5 million have quit looking for work altogether.”

Derek Kravitz, Associated Press economics writer, January 6, 2012.

In short, the recent unemployment numbers are a good sign that the economy is rebounding, but we can’t overlook the fact that many Americans are still struggling to find work. We have to remain dedicated to fighting the nation’s inequality and long-term unemployment.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

Print: Crystal Patterson (immigration)
202.478.6350 or cpatterson@americanprogress.org

Print: Madeline Meth (women's issues, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.741.6277 or mmeth@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
202.483.2675 or lhamilton@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org