Drop in jobless rate little comfort to newly unemployed

December 2, 2011 8:17:53 PM PST
The unemployment rate dropped from 9 percent to 8.6 percent in November. That's the lowest in two and a half years.

According to the Labor Department, 120,000 jobs were added. But the rate is also affected by the roughly 315,000 people who've stopped looking for work.

The encouraging jobs numbers are of little comfort at the Alberto Culver plant in Melrose Park, which produces consumer products including shampoo. At least 600 employees will soon be out of a job after parent company Unilever announced it is shutting down the facility.

"A lot of the employees are in denial. They can't believe it's happening. All the hard work and many years and decades they put in, and one day they're told we're shutting the doors and we're going to leave," said Steve Kramer, United Steelworkers Local 9777.

It wasn't the manufacturing sector but rather retail sales and hospitality that created the bulk of the new jobs last month.

The report comes on the heels of a better than expected Black Friday and other positive indicators, including strong November car sales. Banking giant Chase announced it is adding 400 new jobs in Chicago in its mortgage banking division.

"It's been kind of a three steps forward, two steps back kind of turnaround since the recession ended. We're probably still in that, but again it's good news to see those three steps forward," said John Challenger, Challenger, Gray, & Christmas.

At a jobs rally in the Loop Friday, folks were encouraged.

"It makes me feel very optimistic. Very optimistic that there's still hope," said Larry Davis, unemployed.

But that hope is tempered. Unemployment fell in part because hundreds of thousands of frustrated Americans simply stopped looking for work.

"Maybe in this holiday season when a lot of people stop looking they should gear up their searches. They'll get more audience from people that might be hiring," said Challenger.

But to those soon-to-be out of work at Alberto Culver, numbers and trends mean little.

"It's pretty devastating," said Kramer.

The 120,000 jobs added last month is still 30,000 short of the number needed just to break even with work force population growth. Another reason to be cautious: fewer than two-thirds of Americans are working or actively looking for work, which is dismal any way you slice it.

The jobs report, however, did surprise many people as four tenths of a percent is a significant drop.

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