The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent, its lowest level in 32 months, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (PDF) reported today.
Employers added 140,000 jobs across most private sectors in November, offsetting continued declines in government employment. Public employee rolls dropped by 20,000, the 10th time in 11 months that state and local government employment has shrunk.
The jobs numbers were also boosted by revisions to the September and October reports that showed 72,000 more jobs created than previously reported.
The decline of 0.4 of a point from October’s 9.0 jobless rate resulted in part from people leaving the labor force.
The net 120,000 gain in jobs included retail surging 49,800 and health care rising 18,700. Temporary hiring — seen as a positive sign for future job growth — increased 22,300. Manufacturing jobs edged up 2,000, with most of the gains coming from automakers.
On the downside, the battered construction sector saw payrolls fall 12,000 after losing 15,000 jobs in October.
In a separate household survey, the BLS reported 13.3 million people remain unemployed, down by 594,000 from October. Those out of work 27 weeks or longer remained at about 5.7 million. The number of discouraged workers who have stopped looking for a job stood at 1.1 million in November, a decrease of 186,000 from a year earlier, according to the BLS.
Minnesota’s construction industry
Minnesota is scheduled to report November figures Dec. 5. One sector that will be closely watched is the state’s construction industry, which posted its first, albeit modest, year-over-year job growth in October.
Since the beginning of the recession, Minnesota’s construction industry has lost 50,000 jobs, a 40 percent drop, putting total construction employment at levels not seen since 1995.
Jason George, a legislative and political organizer for Local 49 of the International Union of Operating Engineers said that both layoffs and underemployment are hurting the construction ranks. “Beyond people being on the bench, it’s the number of hours. Our members are not getting as many hours” as they did before the downturn, he said.
He estimated that in a normal year, an experienced heavy equipment operator can average $40,000 to $50,000 during Minnesota’s eight-month outdoor construction season, which typically ends in November.
“This year is a little better than the last few,” particularly in highway construction because of the MnDOT package passed by the Legislature, he said. “But that’s it. There’s nothing else going on — no vertical [high-rise], no residential, no commercial building.”
While he could not estimate how many union members are idle, the construction season is ending with many members facing seasonal layoffs. The union, with 13,000 members in Minnesota and the Dakotas, has seen many workers move to North Dakota for jobs in the oil field, George said.
Ron Tamblyn, 50, a heavy-equipment operator from Blaine and father of four, has been driving tractors, backhoes and bulldozers for more than 20 years. But the member of Local 49 has worked a total of less than two months on union construction jobs in the last three years.
“Right now, I’m almost thinking about going to North Dakota,” he said. But with two children 9 and 11, still at home, one with special needs, he needs to stay at home. Otherwise, “It’s tough for one parent,” he explained.
His wife, Beth, works in accounting at McGoff Construction, the firm Tamblyn was laid off from three years ago. “We’ve been living off my wife’s income, which hasn’t been very easy.”
Tamblyn maxed out his unemployment insurance benefits “quite a while ago” but supplements the family income from a small greenhouse on his property where he raises landscape plantings and produce. They recently took out a second mortgage on their home as well.
“I’ve tried looking for other jobs,” he said. At one point, he worked for a non-union company long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits. “The guy tried to fight me on unemployment. I’m afraid to go work for anyone else other than the union … It’s nasty out there.”
He remains hopeful that the spring thaw will bring more construction jobs and see him back operating the bulldozers, cats and back hoes he’s been trained to do. But he is frustrated as well.
While he thinks the Occupy Wall Street movement “got quite a bit right,” he is reluctant to comment on the demonstrators. But he’s outspoken in his criticism of the financial industry and Washington.
“There are a lot of [construction] jobs out there, but the banks don’t want to lend money,” he said. “My wife is always saying they’ve got jobs, but it takes 10 years to get the funding.”
The economic slump “goes hand in hand with the banks and the politicians. Neither one can agree on anything except for giving bailout money,” he said. “After they paid back the loans, [bank executives] gave themselves bonuses.”