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2011 Jobs Outlook: Better, But Not As Good As It Was

In January 2010, the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent. If you had asked most people then to look forward to the end of the year, few would have guessed the rate would be even higher now.

But it is. Today, the number of people out of work is a little more than 15 million.

Yet the economy did start creating jobs again this year. Many economists believe next year the unemployment rate will drop to around 9 percent, or about double what it was before the recession began.

'Standing Still Isn't All That Great'

Each month, the labor department releases new data about the nation's employment situation. That includes the unemployment rate and whether the number of jobs on payrolls went up or down.

On average, the private sector created 100,000 jobs a month this year. But as President Obama said, almost every month: It wasn't nearly good enough.

"As I've said before, the only piece of economic news that people still looking for work want to hear is, 'You're hired,' " Obama said.

Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, describes the labor market in 2010 as "dismal, and pathetic and dire."

"The job creation compared to the amount of people out of work, is a drop in the bucket," he says.

There were about 1 million jobs created -- but the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent. In addition to the unemployed, an additional 9 million are working part time but want full-time jobs.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, says in 2010 the labor market was running hard, but going nowhere. The economy needs to generate about 150,000 jobs a month, Zandi says, just to keep up with population growth and people re-entering the workforce. It didn't do that in 2010.

"It wasn't negative. We weren't hemorrhaging jobs," he says. "But in the context of 10 percent unemployment, standing still isn't all that great."

Just ask Jack Warner, who lost his job in the auto industry two years ago. He's going back to school to get new skills, and still checking job search websites every day hoping for leads. He describes this past year in which he had just one job interview as frustrating.

Warner is an IT professional who specializes in mainframe computers. There just aren't that many jobs left in his field. His one job interview was the week before Thanksgiving. He hasn't heard anything from the company since.

"I thought it went well," he says. "But I guess not."

Warner is about to join the 99-ers -- a term for people who have received 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and aren't eligible for any more. Warner's benefits run out around the first of the year and he's not sure what he'll do.

'Here We Go Again'

Many of the jobs created in 2010 were temporary positions, some 260,000 of them. In May, Trenda Kennedy landed a job in the mental health field after months of unemployment. Health care was another major growth area in the labor market this year. Two months later she was laid off.

"So I was very crushed, but fortunately another person on our team decided to take another job and so they called me back," she explains.

Kennedy says the job has been great, but it's going to be a long time before she forgets what it felt like to be unemployed.

"When my boss called me back into his office the other day, I just thought, 'Oh no, here we go again. I'm going to get laid off again, something has happened.' No, it was a project.  But still your mind goes down that path," she says.

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Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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