Monday, January 11, 2010

Shrinking U.S. Labor Force Keeps Unemployment Rate From Rising


An exodus of discouraged workers from the job market kept the U.S. unemployment rate from climbing above 10 percent in December, economists said.

Had the labor force not decreased by 661,000 last month, the jobless rate would have been 10.4 percent, according to economists including David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff & Associates in Toronto and Harm Bandholz at UniCredit Research in New York.

“The actual unemployment rate is higher than shown by the official numbers,” Bandholz said yesterday after a Labor Department report released in Washington showed the economy unexpectedly lost 85,000 jobs in December while the jobless rate was unchanged.

About 1.7 million Americans opted out of the workforce from July through December, representing a 1.1 percent drop that marks the biggest six-month decrease since 1961, the Labor Department report showed. The share of the population in the labor force last month fell to the lowest level in 24 years.

December’s 10 percent unemployment rate matched the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. It was shy of the 26-year high of 10.1 percent reached two months earlier.

The so-called underemployment rate -- which includes part- time workers who’d prefer a full-time position and people who want work but have given up looking -- rose to 17.3 percent in December from 17.2 percent.

The number of discouraged workers, those not looking for work because they believe none is available, climbed to 929,000 last month, the most since records began in 1994.

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