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October 05. 2012 9:59PM

National jobless rate falls to 7.8%; NH's has risen 3 straight months

News that the national unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September could portend some improvement for the New Hampshire jobless rate when the state Division of Employment Security releases its numbers later this month.

But don't bank on it.

New Hampshire's unemployment rate — still among the lowest in the nation — has been going up the past three months, from 5.1 percent in June, to 5.4 percent in July and 5.7 percent in August. Whether the national figures signal a reversal of that trend remains to be seen.

“If you asked me that question 10 or 15 years ago, I would have said, 'Yeah, this is really good news for New Hampshire, because New Hampshire always does better than the rest of the country,' ” said Dennis Delay, economist at the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, “but that hasn't been the recent experience.”

“New Hampshire job growth has always been a little faster than the rest of the country,” he said. “That doesn't seem to be the case right now. If anything, we're sort of a mirror for the rest of the country, and we actually are not seeing as much job growth as some other parts of the United States, like North Dakota, Texas and other energy-producing states.”

While the national unemployment figure is encouraging, he said, it is only a one-month snapshot — subject to revision — and does not reflect many of the more underlying and fundamental problems slowing job growth.

Much of the job growth is being attributed to new part-time jobs. As Delay points out, “The average of weekly hours worked is still about 4 percent below where it was at the beginning of the recession. The fact that we've made progress on the unemployment front is good, but it's way below what we would expect for an improving economy.

Delay pointed out that wage growth hovering around 1.5 to 1.7 percent is hardly keeping up with the rate of inflation, “and if you look at the percent of the population that's employed, relative to the total population in the country, we're still way below where we were before the recession took hold,” he said.

About 63 percent of the nation's working-age population was employed in 2008 before the recession hit, and that number now is hovering between 58 to 59 percent.

Annette Nielsen, an economist for New Hampshire Division of Employment Security, said the state's unemployment rate dropped significantly earlier in the year, with the lowest rate since the start of the recession coming in April and May when it dipped to 5 percent. “Maybe we are seeing that being adjusted later in the year,” she said, “so the significance of it going up might not be quite as drastic.”

Unemployment in New Hampshire peaked in October 2009 at 6.7 percent and stayed there through January 2010.

Reaction to the dip in the national figure among the state's congressional delegation fell along party lines, with the state's lone Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, sounding buoyed but cautious. “Today's news was encouraging, as is the fact that we have had 31 straight months of private-sector job growth. Still, we must continue working to ensure that everyone who needs a job can find one,” she said.

Second District Congressman Charles Bass called the reduction good news, but said the 7.8 percent number is still “terrible.”

“Our economy still needs bipartisan solutions to change the current direction it is heading in and to provide our job creators with the certainty they need to prosper and thrive,” he said.

First District Congressman Frank Guinta offered a similar take: “With 23 million Americans underemployed, Congress and the White House must come together to help provide small businesses and job creators the predictability in the job market to hire and grow.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte found little to like in the report.

“The jobs report shows more evidence that Obama's economy isn't working,” she said. “Unemployment is still far too high, and much higher than the 5.6 percent rate the stimulus was supposed to get us to by now. Job creators are frozen in fear as 23 million Americans struggle to find work. Far too many people who want a full-time job are forced into part-time work that doesn't make ends meet.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com



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