Job Recovery is Creeping Up on Us... Slowly

"Slowly I turned... step by step..." is more than just a line from a classic comedy routine these days. It could well be used to describe the oh-so-subtle turnaround of the U.S. unemployment situation. While today's jobs report shows that the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent, fewer jobs than expected were created: Non-farm payrolls increased 103,000, substantially lower than economists' predictions of 175,000 additional jobs.

The good news

The unemployment rate is now the lowest it's been for one and a half years, since May 2009. And private hiring rose 113,000, while government employment fell 10,000. Today's news is definitely a mixed bag. Unemployment rates were still higher in 182 metropolitan areas, and lower in only 166 metropolitan areas in November. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 13 major metropolitan areas recorded jobless rates of at least 15 percent, while 11 areas registered rates of less than 5 percent.

"In America, sustained economic growth requires jobs. If we don't fix the job situation, our economic recovery is at risk," says Tig Gilliam, CEO, Adecco Group North America, a Fortune 500 Company that specializes in human resource solutions. "With 70 percent of GDP driven by consumer spending, we need employed and confident spenders to keep the economic recovery on track. For this reason, job creation must be our first priority."

The bad news

While the national unemployment rate hovers just under 10 percent, there are still areas in the United States where the rate is over 20 percent. The metropolitan areas hardest hit continue to be led by El Centro, Calif., at a 29.1 percent unemployment rate. That's followed by Yuma, Ariz., at 24.8 percent. Among the 13 areas with jobless rates of at least 15 percent, 11 were located in California.

Could it be that there's a huge price to pay for living in a warm climate? Those in brutally cold areas seem to be doing much better, employment-wise. Bismarck, N.D., again registered the lowest unemployment rate in November at 3.3 percent. The areas with the next lowest rates were Fargo, N.D.-Minn., and Lincoln, Neb., 3.5 percent each; and Grand Forks, N.D.-Minn., 3.7 percent. Of the 11 areas with jobless rates under 5 percent, nine were located in the West North Central census division.

Regardless of the weather, big U.S. cities appear to remain the best places to go if you're looking for work., an online career community, notes that so far in 2011, the cities with the most job openings on their site are huge metropolitan areas like:

1. New York, 779,778 openings

2. Washington, D.C., 695,566 openings

3. Chicago, 608,375 openings

4. Los Angeles, 528,870 openings

5. Philadelphia, 457,918 openings

6. Boston, 424,726 openings

7. Atlanta, 335,493 openings

Job seekers should remember, however, that there is a lot more competition in those areas for those openings. Those who can't stand the big city life might do well to try smaller metropolitan areas like Charlotte, N.C., Baltimore and Hartford, Conn., according to Heidi Golledge, co-founder and CEO of CareerBliss.

She says, "In 2011, you will see an increase in hiring in medium-sized cities such as Baltimore, and Hartford Conn., which came in 15th and 17th on the list. Outranking the city of Houston, Baltimore owes its growth to their heavy concentration of jobs in the health, science and technology industries." Golledge also says that with a population of about 600,000 people, Charlotte outranks cities such as Dallas, Houston and San Diego, which have more than 1 million people in their metro areas. Data shows a heavy surge in information technology from companies such as BAE Systems, which has invested more money into their Charlotte location and added jobs to the area.

The bright side

Experts, as well as government number crunchers, are eager to put a positive spin on just about any numbers that come out, and recent reports do indicate that things are headed in the right direction. Even though a Thursday DOL release reported that new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, analysts were quick to point out that a decline in the four-week average to a fresh low in more than two years indicated that a labor market uptick is alive and well.

"Interestingly enough, businesses are hiring although uncertainty is discouraging employers from hiring full-time and permanent workers," Gilliam observes. "It is a boom time for temporary and contract work. In our wait-and-see economy, companies are careful. They are filling powerful benches for when there's more trust in the economy. Many of the jobs we place people in will absolutely translate eventually to permanent positions as we see the economy turn."

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From DailyFinance: Employers Added 103,000 Jobs in December

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