The Numbers vs. the Faces

Merry Christmas and an early Happy New year, blogosphere. JVSWorks is not only working today, we're wishing the world of job seekers a less than 7% for 2014. We can dream, right? We can ask for the moon. Heck, if we got to 7%, then why not 6.5%? Why not lower? Why not day after day of an empty waiting room at the JVS WorkSource Centers?

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the Department of Labor and its mighty Bureau of Labor Statistics released the November job numbers providing some early Christmas (or, if you prefer, late Hanukkah) cheer. The news was rosy. The nation added 203,000 jobs in November, revised its October total to 200,000 and announced that the unemployment rate dropped .3 percentage points to 7%.

Spinmeisters, start your engines. The jobs were spread across numerous industries: transportation, warehousing, health care, and manufacturing. Retail was up, probably in response to the peculiar scheduling of the holidays and shoppers anticipated a potential fiscal cliff. CEPR's Dean Baker noted a 0.1 uptick in the increase of the work week, potentially signaling more growth.

How about a 455,000 increase in the civilian labor force in November, compared to a decline by 720,000? We had once furloughed federal workers returning to their jobs.  And the number of involuntary part-time workers dropped by 331,000 to 7.7 million in November.

Admittedly, 7.7 million people working part time for economic reasons is no small number and the number of long-term unemployed (those out of work 27 weeks or longer) remains unchanged at 4.1 million.  The BLS notes that over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has dropped by 718,000. Better that this number should decrease, but if you think these people are now happily employed, you have been perhaps consuming a bit too much eggnog.

"On the whole, the November report is clearly positive," Baker says, exactly one breath before reminding us that we would need six years of 200,000 new jobs per month to get the economy back to where we were pre-Recession.

All the same, 7% unemployment and the healthy November numbers are nothing if not encouraging. In fact, they may be too encouraging. Washington is now cutting back on its stimulus efforts and the long-term unemployed are in as desperate straits as ever.

How desperate? The Huffington Post solicited e-mails from unemployed Americans and got plenty of good responses. In his excellent round-up, Arthur Delaney interviews to Mike Schillim who was earning $65,000 a year last year as a materials manager in Warren, Michigan and is now unemployed with no job prospects, living in a cramped house with his three grown sons. His unemployment benefits are about to run out. There is no Christmas in the Schillim family this year.

This is, unfortunately,a  popular story topic. Last week, in the midst of company holiday parties, I went down to the JVS Marina del Rey WorkSource Center to help a reporter from KNS-1070 find clients who were due to have their unemployment benefits disappear shortly after Christmas. This was a short notice request, and a part of me hoped we wouldn't find anybody in those dire straits.

But of course we did. We found people who were facing eviction, people who couldn't pay for a procedure that might save a beloved pet's life, people who were just plain tired of burning through their savings. Our caseworkers see it all, and the holiday season can really bring out the desperation.Check out Margaret Carrero's report.

Kinda makes 7% not 't seem like such a lucky number anymore.