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June Job Numbers Perk Up Optimists



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The economy added 195,000 jobs in June. That was a surprise and a delight to both economists and Wall Street. But the unemployment rate was stuck at 7.6 percent.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports that the economic recovery continues at a slow but steady pace.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: For this story, we're going to hear from three relatively excited economists. Their reactions were all pretty much the same - one's in Washington D.C., another in Boston. But let's begin with Juli Niemann. She's with Smith, Moore and Company in St. Louis.



NIEMANN: There's, you know, we're seeing some gradual improvement in the jobs market, and that's a positive thing.

GLINTON: See, I promised you excitement.

NIEMANN: Not bad at all, until you take it apart.

GLINTON: Well, economists can only get but so excited.

NIEMANN: The big gains were in restaurants, retail, employment services. These are all low-paying jobs. And that's been the characteristic of this whole job recovery. Job growth is finally picking up again but they're in low-end jobs.

GLINTON: There were also gains in the health care and financial services. But manufacturing and construction - the places where you'd get the higher paying workers - those sectors lost jobs.

OK. On to the next economist. Bill Cheney. He's actually chief economist with John Hancock in Boston. On first glance, he was pleased with overall report, but he had mixed feeling once he dug down.

BILL CHENEY: The broadest measure of unemployment, where they include everybody who wants a job or wants a full-time job or is, as they put it, marginally attached to the work force, that unemployment rate actually went up a little bit.

GLINTON: So there were more temp workers and more part-time workers. Cheney doesn't think that's all bad. He says what's likely happening is that some of those discouraged workers, people who've given up on finding real lasting work, they're seeing some hope.

CHENEY: It probably just means that the job market is getting better. People are coming out of the woodwork and thinking about looking but not all of them have done any serious job hunting yet.

GLINTON: Here's a bright spot that all the economists point to in this report - wages.

After a long time being stagnant, averages hourly earnings have gone up.

Again, Bill Cheney.

CHENEY: That translates into more income in consumer's pockets. It means that people actually are going to be able to keep the rate of consumer spending going.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Dean Baker with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington says the jobs number far outpaced his expectations. But wages? Baker points out that mid- and low-end workers aren't seeing their paychecks get fatter.

DEAN BAKER: Their wages have been pretty much flat; just keeping pace with the rate of inflation, more or less. Whereas in the most recent data, it looks like the higher paid supervisory workers - this would also include a lot of professionals - their wages seem to be rising more rapidly.

WERTHEIMER: Let's go back to Juli Niemann, who we heard at the top, to bring us home. Here's what she says we need to look for before there's a true job bounce-back.

NIEMANN: You would see real pickup in consumer durables, appliances. You would see, you know, more investment in plants and equipment. You would see more pickup in true manufacturing. We've had some, but certainly not where it should be for this level of recovery from a quote, "recession."

GLINTON: And to sum up all three economists: We ain't where we used to be.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.
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