Economy Watch: Employment Continues Its Slow Recovery in October

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the economy added 120,000 jobs in November, more than October's 80,000, but still not enough to indicate a healthy jobs situation.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday that the economy added 120,000 jobs in November, more than October’s 80,000, but still not enough to indicate a healthy jobs situation. Because of the way the government calculates unemployment, however—a lot of people gave up looking for work—the addition had an outsized impact on the official unemployment rate, which dropped to 8.6 percent, the lowest level since March 2009.

The monthly report came after the government’s weekly report on new unemployment claims on Thursday. In the week ending Nov. 26, initial claims were 402,000, a small increase of 6,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 396,000. The less volatile four-week moving average was 395,750, an even smaller increase of 500 from the previous week’s revised average of 395,250.

Also on Thursday, consultancy Challenger & Christmas Inc. said that U.S. companies cut a little more than 42,400 jobs in November in mass layoffs, which was 13 percent fewer than during the same month in 2010. But for the entirety of 2011 (so far), there have been more than 563,000 job reductions, compared with about 530,000 in all of 2010.

Construction spending ekes out monthly gain

The Census Bureau reported on Thursday that U.S. construction spending edged up in October by 0.8 percent when compared with September. Year-over-year, however, spending on construction projects edged down in October by 0.4 percent. All together, construction in October occurred at an annualized rate of just over $798.5 billion, compared with nearly $802 billion 12 months ago.

Total residential construction rose 3.2 percent month-over-month, though it was up only 0.6 percent compared with the October 2010. Nonresidential construction, by contrast, was down slightly (0.2 percent) compared with September and down 0.9 percent year-over-year.

Some categories of nonresidential construction slowed down a lot more than others, according to the Census Bureau. Since last year, for instance, lodging construction fell 17.3 percent, and the building of religious structures dropped off by 18.9 percent. Concurrent with the contraction of state and local governments, public works were down considerably as well: sewage and waste disposal facilities by 16.4 percent, waterworks by 10.2 percent, and highways and streets by 8.3 percent. On the other hand, manufacturing facility construction was up 13.3 percent year-over-year and the building of distribution, warehousing and other commercial facilities (except offices) rose 10 percent.

Massachusetts sues big banks

The commonwealth of Massachusetts is suing the five biggest mortgage companies in the country, with state Attorney General Martha Coakley alleging that the banks have a habit of foreclosing on mortgages illegally because they didn’t actually hold the mortgages, among other foreclosure-related underhandedness. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial are the banks in question, with AG Coakley asserting that illegal foreclosures have “adversely impacted titles to hundreds, if not thousands, of properties” in the state.

Discussions between these five large banks and an assortment of federal and state officials about how to settle robosigning (and other) charges are still ongoing, though Coakley doesn’t happen to be one of those officials. It isn’t clear yet how the Massachusetts suit, as well as a similar one filed recently by the state of Nevada, along with other state investigations, will affect the settlement process.

Wall Street took a breather on Thursday after the upward surge on Wednesday, ending mixed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 25.65 points, or 0.21 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 0.19 percent. The Nasdaq was up 0.22 percent.

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