“The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell to a 3-1/2-year low last week and factory activity in parts of the Northeast gained speed in December, suggesting a further strengthening of the economic recovery.
While other data on Thursday showed industrial output shrank for the first time in seven months in November, much of the decline came from auto production, which analysts said was held back by temporary supply disruptions.
“It looks like we have just hit a clear patch on the road to recovery, where things are going to speed up a little bit,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to the Labor Department, initial claims for unemployment last week were 366,000, the lowest since May of 2008, before the economy began its cliffdive. (The number is seasonally adjusted to account for the normal holiday hiring.)
According to the Wall Street Journal:
” … surveys of large and small employers also show improving conditions and sentiment. A survey out Tuesday from ManpowerGroup hit its highest reading since 2008, while a report by the National Federation of Independent Business showed small businesses added workers in November after shedding them for five straight months. Labor Department data reflect a steady increase in job openings while consumer polls suggest people are feeling better about the job market.
“If claims can remain at this level, payroll growth will strengthen markedly within a month or so,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
That doesn’t mean that things still aren’t tough. They are. I was in the grocery store yesterday and was struck by a conversation I overheard between a man behind the counter and a customer, a seemingly prosperous older woman. It went like this:
Clerk: “How are you doing today, ma’am?”
Woman: “Oh. I’ve been better. Things have certainly been better.”
Clerk: “Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I always try to look at the bright side, ma’am, so maybe things will improve.”
Woman: “Yeah, well, you have a job. Right?”
Clerk: “Uhh, yes ma’am. I guess I do.”
Woman: “I don’t. And my husband was just laid off too, after working for the company for 30 years. So no, I’m not doing so well.”
The depression and sense of resignation in the woman’s voice told you more than her words did. Those of us with jobs or steady income should keep in mind how lucky we are during this holiday season.
– Jay Bookman