U.S. unemployment rose 0.2 percent in November as regional economy ‘grew at a firm pace’

The national unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent in November, up 0.2 points from the level of the past three months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which issued the numbers this morning. While employment in most major industries changed little in November, according to the BLS survey, temporary help services and health care continued to add jobs over the month, while employment fell in retail trade.

Whether this presages another uptick in Minnesota’s unemployment rate won’t be known until the state’s November unemployment figures are released Dec. 16.

Minnesota’s unemployment rate, most recently clocked at 7.1 percent for October, has consistently trailed the national rate by 2.5 or so points.

The numbers follow the release earlier this week of the Federal Reserve Bank’s “Beige Book”  which reported the Minneapolis District economy “grew at a firm pace.” The “Beige Book” is the Fed’s anecdotal survey of businesses which is conducted in advance of the Federal Open Market Committee deliberations, next scheduled for Dec. 14.

The report for the Minneapolis Ninth District, which stretches from Minnesota, part of western Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Dakotas and Montana, noted that consumer spending, tourism, services, manufacturing, energy, mining and agriculture all were positive for the period ending mid-November.

In the critical consumer economy across the region, a Minneapolis Fed business outlook poll showed that 30 percent of respondents expect consumer spending to increase next year, with 20 percent expecting a decline. This is decidedly more positive than last year’s poll which found 18 percent optimistic versus 49 percent pessimistic on consumer spending.

Wage increases “were generally modest” but trends varied. One IT sector employer was expecting “continued depressed wage levels” in software development while the oil boom in western North Dakota and eastern Montana has pushed wages in fast food restaurants up to $13 per hour with some reporting signing bonuses.

In the Twin Cities metro area specifically, commercial construction was reported “at a standstill.” On a more positive note, “a major Minneapolis-based retailer” reported nearly 2 percent growth in same-store sales in October from a year ago while an unidentified Minneapolis area mall reported total September sales up 9 percent from a year ago, with “early November traffic…steady, according to the mall manager.”

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