By Mark Whitehouse
The sharp fall in the U.S. unemployment rate, to 8.6 percent in November from 9.0 percent in October, raises a question: Could expiring jobless benefits be having an effect on the number?
The decline in unemployment was driven in part by the disappearance of some 315,000 people from the labor force. If they haven't looked for work in the past four weeks, they're not counted as unemployed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t want a job. Indeed, the Labor Department estimated that as of November, a seasonally adjusted 6.6 million people considered not in the labor force actually did want work. That number was up 192,000 from October.
Why might so many people who were recently looking for work stop doing so? One possible explanation: They had to say they were actively searching to collect unemployment benefits, but now that those benefits are running out, they’re no longer going through the motions.
As of Nov. 5, the four-week average number of people claiming some form of unemployment benefits stood at roughly 6.8 million, down from 8.8 million a year earlier, according to the Labor Department. In November, the number of unemployed (12.6 million) plus those out of the labor force who wanted a job (6.2 million) added up to a seasonally unadjusted 18.8 million, down from 20.1 million a year earlier. That leaves 12 million people (18.8 million minus the 6.8 million getting benefits) out of work and receiving no benefits in November, up nearly 700,000 from the previous year.
If Congress allows extended unemployment benefits to expire on Dec. 13, the number of jobless without benefits will rise sharply at a time when the recovery is still exceedingly weak. As Bloomberg View has written, that's not a desirable outcome.
(Mark Whitehouse is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)-0- Dec/02/2011 19:07 GMT