After months of tepid jobs reports, the Labor Department reported Friday that nation's unemployment fell to a level not seen since before President Obama took office in January 2009, 7.8 percent.
That was good news for job hunters and workers -- and of course, President Obama. So immediately the conspiracy theories started flying, with none other than Jack Welch, esteemed former chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., claiming that the Obama administration "cooked" the numbers in advance of November's election to aid in his reelection. Shortly after the jobs report was released Friday, Welch tweeted:
Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers
Welch was referring to Obama's debate performance Wednesday against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, which some critics called weak.
Welch, who made his career by developing successful ways to motivate employees, might want to give career civil servants at the Labor Department a little more credit than to suggest they tampered with government data. Further, as The Washington Post notes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is set up to ensure the White House has no ability to influence it.
Wlech was slammed by critics on Twitter, and #jackwelch became a trending term. As financial blogger Felix Salmon of Reuters wrote on Twitter in response to Welch:
Mitt Romney was also critical of the report, despite the good news it contained. "This is not what a real recovery looks like," he said in a statement.
So what's behind the sudden drop? It wasn't that employers started hiring masses of workers in September -- the nation added just 114,000 jobs last month. Rather, it was upward revisions to the two previous months' job-creation numbers that are being credited for the drop in joblessness.
Who's Hiring For The Holidays
Could The Jobs Numbers Be 'Cooked'?
Seasonal job openings: 5,200
A staple of many shopping malls across the nation, the gourmet gift basket retailer relies heavily on holiday sales to add to its profits. A privately held company, Hickory Farms perennially hires as many as 6,000 seasonal workers to work at its stores, which it calls "Holiday Gift Centers." Though many jobs involve interacting with customers, the company also needs additional workers to fill stock and labor positions, which may include driving in some locations, it says.
Though it has no bricks-and-mortar stores to staff, Amazon.com Inc.'s seasonal hiring plans are nonetheless robust. It needs plenty of additional workers to help fill orders and keep products moving through its warehouses nationwide. The Seattle-based company, which is unveiling a new line of Kindle-brand electronic readers and tablets, also plans to add 2,000 new jobs at three new distribution centers to help deal with demand driven by the new devices.
The department store operator announced it September that it would ramp up holiday hiring by more than 10 percent from last year to support its business in stores and online. Wisconsin-based Kohl's Corp., which operates 1,134 stores in 49 states, plans to hire an average of 41 workers at each store, a 4 percent increase from last year. The company also expects to add about 5,700 seasonal positions at distribution centers and more than 30 seasonal credit operations jobs.
The former No. 1 seller of toys in the U.S., Toys R Us Inc. credits a gradually improving economy and an increase in consumer spending for its decision to hire 11 percent more seasonal workers than the 40,000 it did in 2011. Of those it hired last year, Toys R Us says roughly 15 percent of them were kept on after the holiday sales season ended.
The holidays are the busiest time of year for the world's largest retailer and the company plans to hire more than 50,000 temporary workers to help keep store shelves and move customers through checkout lines as the 2012 holiday season approaches. Walmart Stores Inc. also plans to give existing employees the chance to work more hours during the season, acknowledging complaints among some workers who said they weren't able to work as many hours as they would have liked.
Though far smaller than rival Walmart, the nation's No. 2 retailer nonetheless plans to hire plenty of holiday season workers in 2012. The Minnesota-based company plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 seasonal jobs, down a bit from the 92,000 it hired last year. Hiring forecasts are likely be held in check by Target's expectations of an "ultracompetitive" holiday sales season. Target Corp., along with Walmart, is keeping an eye on expenses, which of course includes labor costs, so as to lower prices and stimulate sales.
The king of all department stores, Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. said it's hiring nearly 3 percent more seasonal staff than it did last year, in anticipation of higher holidays sales. Sales associates and call center employees are among the positions Macy's is looking to fill, which also include those in its distribution and fulfillment centers, to support the department store operator's growing online business.
Best Buy Co. plans to hire about 9,000 more seasonal workers as it did last year, though this year's number is still below the 29,000 it hired in 2010. In July, the world's largest consumer electronics chain cut 600 of its "Geek Squad" employees in response to weak sales. The boost in seasonal hiring is helping to contribute to what analysts say is the best year of seasonal-job creation that the U.S. has seen in five years.
Much like Best Buy, GameStop has seen its sales erode as more and more consumers turn to buying online. Faced with strong competitors such as Amazon, GameStop has nonetheless managed to hold its own in terms of sales and profits. As with most retailers, the Grapevine, Texas-based company derives much of its sales during the all-important holiday sales season -- and its more than 4,400 stores in the U.S. need more staff to help keep those cash registers ringing.
J.C. Penney Co. has struggled to remake its namesake JCPenney stores into a retail business that's more modern and less reliant on discounts to draw customers. And the coming holiday shopping season will be an important test of whether the signs of improvement that Plano, Texas-based company has lately been showing are real or not. Sales are expected to be tepid this holiday season, but at least one company representative says that won't affect the need for seasonal workers. "[It] looks like there will be another increase this year over last year's hiring," said, Bob Parker, a site manager for JCPenney in Sarasota, Fla., "probably by as much as 10 to 20 percent in some cases."
The fall is prime season for privately held Party City Holdings Inc., which is perhaps best known as a seller of Halloween costumes. But the retailer also sells party supplies and seasonal decorations, which result in a steady flow of customers this time of year. The Rockaway, N.J.-based company has 600 stores nationwide. In addition to its namesake Party City stores, it also operates The Paper Factory, Halloween City and Factory Card & Party Outlet shops.
It takes a lot more workers to help move the millions of boxes and packages Americans send to each other each holiday season. And though FedEx Corp. expects shipping volume will be up 13 percent, it's hiring about as many workers as it did last holiday season. The company says it can stick with the same number of seasonal workers as last year because it has been hiring staff throughout 2012.
The Memphis, Tenn.-based company, which is closely watched as an indicator of consumer demand and economic health, anticipates handling more than 280 million shipments during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Competitor UPS added about 55,000 workers for the holidays last year, 10 percent more than it hired in 2010.
With expectations of delivering 527 million packages this holiday season, UPS Inc. is adding 55,000 workers to sort, load and deliver packages, the same number it hired last year, but 10 percent higher than in 2010. Based on the company's forecast, it appears those and full-time UPS workers will be busiest during the final week before the Christmas holiday. UPS says 28 million, or 5 percent of packages, will be delivered Thursday, Dec. 20 -- projected to be the busiest of the year.
Unlike last month's drop in the unemployment rate to 8.1 percent, which initially credited the decline to workers giving up looking for work, September's data showed no such trend. In other words, the rate dropped because more people -- 873,000 -- reported finding jobs and weren't counted as leaving the workforce.
Other good news:
The number of discouraged workers -- those who have given up looking for work because they don't believe there any jobs available for them -- fell to 802,000, a decline of 235,000 from a year ago.
The tally of workers out of work for fewer than five weeks declined by 302,000 during the month to 2.5 million, suggesting that newly unemployed people are having an easier time in finding new jobs.
The overall unemployment rate among veterans fell to 6.7 percent last month from 8.1 percent a year ago. The percentage of female veterans, however, rose to 13.2 percent from 9.7 percent in September 2011.
Health care continues to be a job-creation engine. The sector added 44,000 jobs last month, including 8,000 new jobs at hospitals. During the past year, health-care employment has risen by nearly 300,000 jobs.
Despite the relatively strong report, there are still signs that many unemployed people will continue to face headwinds in trying a job:
Employers added only 114,000 jobs last month, barely enough to keep up with population growth, and not enough to help drive down the unemployment rate.
The manufacturing sector, which had been a bright spot for job creation until August, lost 16,000 jobs in September, including a loss of 3,400 jobs at vehicle and auto-parts plants, suggesting that manufacturers aren't hiring as they once were.
Though the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more dropped, there are still 4.84 million long-term jobless -- and the longer they remain unemployed, the harder it will be for them to find work.
To be sure, there was lots of good news in the September jobs report, but still plenty of reason to remain cautious. "It's an OK report," Bill Kosteas, economist at Cleveland State University, told the Marketplace Morning Report radio program. "We'll have to look to see the revisions to [September's data] next month, since we've been getting some pretty sizable revisions."