Jobless numbers stable as Senate extends unemployment benefits

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The Senate voted earlier this week to extend unemployment benefits, allowing Sen. Jim Bunning to watch college basketball in peace and the jobless to collect benefits while looking for work.

Bunning had been opposing the bill extending benefits for 1.2 million Americans because he wanted the money to come from federal stimulus funds, but in the end his fellow Republicans got him to support the bill and not face the wrath against the party of voters tired of inaction in Congress.

For the 14.9 million unemployed Americans, there was more good news, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that the national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.7%. At least it's not climbing.

The BLS reported that employment fell in construction and information sectors, while temporary help services added jobs. Severe winter weather in some areas of the country may have affected payroll employment and hours, it reported.

The number of long-term unemployed people -- jobless for 27 weeks or more and called "underemployed" -- was at 6.1 million in February, about the same level since December.

About four in 10 unemployed people have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, a sad fact that makes the 9.7% national unemployment rate look minor.

The New York Times Economix blog recently put up a map showing underemployment rates by state, with Michigan leading at 21.5% underemployment. Some of the worst-hit states have underemployment at double what their unemployment rates are.

For a bit of good news on unemployment, I found Juan D. Morales, managing director in Miami for Stanton Chase, an executive search consultancy. Stanton Chase is seeing an increase in executive recruiting, and its efforts are often a six-month leading indicator of what's to come, Morales said.

The "pent up demand" that businesses created during the last 18 months by consolidating and cutting jobs has left them with cash they're now ready to spend, he said.

"It does take the economy time to adjust to what I would call the 'new look'" of business, he said.
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