WASHINGTON » Unemployment is stuck at high levels even though some companies are hiring. The problem, government data show, is that too few jobs are being created for the growing number of people looking for work.
Private employers added a net total of 67,000 jobs in August. But the unemployment rate rose to 9.6 percent from 9.5 percent, the Labor Department said yesterday, because the number of job-seekers overwhelmed the number of openings.
The unemployment rate has exceeded 9 percent for 16 straight months and is all but sure to extend that streak into next year. If it does, it would break a record of 19 straight months above 9 percent, set in 1982-83, after a severe recession.
Nearly 15 million people are unemployed this Labor Day weekend, and the sluggish economy is putting pressure on President Barack Obama and the Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections. Obama said yesterday that he intends to unveil a new package of proposals that will likely include tax cuts and spending to spark job growth.
On top of the jobs that companies created last month, both July and June’s private-sector job figures were upwardly revised. Overall, the economy lost 54,000 jobs last month as 114,000 temporary census positions ended.
The Labor Department report hardly suggests the economy is out of danger, but the figures were not as bleak as some economists had predicted.
Wall Street embraced the news, and stocks surged within seconds of its release. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 127 points.
"When the bar is low, it isn’t hard to exceed it," said Diane Swonk, an economist at Mesirow Financial. The report "alleviates the sense that the economy is falling off a cliff."
Even with August’s gains, job growth has weakened in recent months and isn’t enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising. Private employers have added only 78,000 jobs per month, on average, in the past three months. It would take at least 200,000 jobs a month to keep up with population growth and rehire millions of unemployed Americans.
Many economists don’t expect that pace of job growth until next year. As a result, the unemployment rate could exceed 9 percent for many more months.
The November midterm elections are already shaping up to be a referendum on Democrats’ handling of the economy. Many expect the majority party to lose many seats and possibly control of the House and Senate.
Obama called the latest employment figures positive news but acknowledged that much more job creation is needed to help restore the 8.4 million jobs lost during the downturn.
"It reflects the steps we’ve already taken to break the back of this recession," Obama said. "But it’s not nearly good enough."
The president urged Congress to extend the Bush administration’s tax cuts only for middle-class Americans and to pass a bill that would increase lending and reduce taxes for small businesses.
Republicans in Congress want to extend the tax cuts for all Americans, including the wealthy.