For only the second month since April 2008 the unemployment rate in February did not rise, remaining at its January level of 9.7 percent, figures released by the Bureau of Labour Statistics on Friday showed.
The stabilisation in unemployment however came on the back of 36,000 jobs that were lost in February. However, the BLS report added, “Severe winter weather in parts of the country may have affected payroll employment and hours”.
According to Gary Burtless, labour market specialist at Brookings, although job prospects for the long-term unemployed remain grim, the last two months’ BLS reports suggest there may be “faint light at the end of the tunnel”. Markets reacted positively to the news and rose by around 1.2 percent.
President Obama described the moderation in the unemployment rate last month as “better than expected” and argued that it demonstrated that the measures that his administration had taken to turn the economy around were having some impact. However he said “it's more than we should tolerate”.
According to the BLS report the number of long-term unemployed – those jobless for 27 weeks and over – was 6.1 million in February and has been about that level since December. About 40 percent has been unemployed for 27 weeks or more.
In reality the actual numbers of those affected by job insecurity, even if not by unemployment, is likely to be much higher. The number of involuntary part-time workers – working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job – rose from 8.3 million to 8.8 million last month, the BLS report revealed.
A further 2.5 million people were classified as marginally attached to the labour force in February, representing increase of 476,000 from a year earlier. Marginally attached people, not counted as unemployed, refers to those who were not in the labour force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months.
Sector-wise, while employment fell in construction and IT, it remained more or less constant in manufacturing and retail trade and rose in temporary help services, healthcare and federal government.
Reiterating the commitment to his top priority for 2010 Mr. Obama said, “I'm not going to rest, and my administration is not going to rest… until our economy is working again for the middle class, and for all Americans”.