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The unemployment rate for January dropped unexpectedly to 9.7 percent from 10 percent, even with 20,000 jobs lost. The Labor Department says that's because a survey of households found the number of employed Americans rose by half a million, and job losses are calculated separately.
All told, this complicated statistic shows that the recession has eliminated 8.5 million jobs. It is projected that the unemployment rate will hover around eight percent until 2013.
And while the markets closed last week at the lowest levels so far this year, some analysts are seeing signs of recovery.
"New York Times" correspondent Floyd Norris says in general, the jobs picture looks good, and the number of jobs have actually gone up in the area of manufacturing for the first time since January of 2007. This is the case not only in the US, but also around the world.
"And there is a decent recovery going on, it appears, even though people are very glum about it," Norris said.
He adds that there is a decline in the number of people who say they're unemployed because they've lost their job. "And we're seeing an increase in the number of people who are unemployed because they decided to enter the labor force."
Elizabeth Williamson, White House Correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," expects the Obama administration to capitalize on the manufacturing numbers as proof that the stimulus and other efforts are starting to move numbers in the right direction.
"Manufacturing is enormous for this administration and the fact that you would see some growth in manufacturing jobs is very important for their message," said Williamson.
But the jobs outlook for 2012, when President Obama runs for re-election, isn't too positive, Williamson adds.
"They had said when they signed in February just about a year ago the Recovery Act that they thought it would reduce the jobless rate to about eight percent,” said Williamson. “That hasn't happened. There's now diminishing expectations. They don't predict that the jobless rate will fall at any time before he runs for re-election."
Politics aside, Norris thinks the unemployment numbers offer a bit of good news to counter Europe's bad economic news, and should help balance things out for the markets.
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.