November unemployment down slightly

November’s unemployment rate, announced this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, stands at 10.0 percent, down slightly from October’s 10.2 percent, surprising economists who had predicted either holding steady or a slight increase. The total number of officially unemployed, plus discouraged workers, people working part time because they cannot find full time jobs, and those “marginally attached” to the work force – 17.2 percent in November, down from 17.5 percent in October. 

The unemployment figure is the most prominent number, but it’s not the only significant one. The number of jobs is also key – the economy has been contracting, shedding jobs steadily. This month’s job loss was only 11,000 which economists see as hopeful, because it’s down from 135,000 average over the past three months. Job losses totaled 7.3 million from December 2007 to October 2009.

Other indicators are the length of the work week (more is better, and the work week rose from 33.0 to 33.2 hours in November) and the number of temp workers hired – employers are likely to hire more temps before committing to more permanent workers.

In the week ending November 28, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 457,000, reports the Department of Labor, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 462,000. That’s the lowest number all year.

Many long-term unemployed workers can’t find new jobs and are about to run out of their unemployment compensation and/or health insurance. The National Employment Law Project reports that more than a million unemployed workers will lose their unemployment benefits at the end of December, unless the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is renewed. Even though Congress has passed extensions of unemployment compensation, all of those end on December 31, unless Congress reauthorizes the programs before that time. MPR explains:

Under current law, some Minnesotans may receive as many as 93 weeks of benefits. Starting in January, the maximum they could qualify for would be a much smaller 39 weeks, unless Congress passes new legislation authorizing further extensions.

In a one-two punch, federal subsidies for COBRA health insurance coverage will also end December 31. (For many unemployed workers, the xxx month subsidy has already ended.) COBRA is the name of the program through which workers who lose their jobs can pay for continuation of health insurance. Because of the recession, the federal government instituted a program in February to pay 65 percent of COBRA premiums for nine months. MinnPost reports:

The original nine-month ARRA subsidy is available to those laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Minnesota also has used stimulus money to subsidize 35 percent of the remaining cost for 1,108 households whose income would qualify them for public insurance programs …
[The] average COBRA premium (without a subsidy) for a family eats up more than 83 percent of the average monthly unemployment insurance check. In Minnesota, such a premium accounts for 72.8 percent of average monthly unemployment benefits.

U.S. unemployment numbers rose to 10.2 percent in October, up from 9.8% in September. More than one-third of unemployed workers have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

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