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80,000 jobs added, jobless rate dips to 9%

WASHINGTON -- The American job market improved modestly in October, and economists looking deeper into the numbers found reasons for optimism -- or at least what counts for optimism in this agonizingly slow economic recovery.

The nation added 80,000 jobs. That was fewer than the 100,000 that economists expected, but it was the 13th consecutive month of job gains. Fears of a new recession that loomed over the economy this summer have receded.

The unemployment rate nudged down, to 9 percent from 9.1 in September.

"Those are pretty good signs," said Michael Hanson, senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "We're hanging in there."

No one looking at Friday's report from the Labor Department saw a quick end to the high unemployment that has plagued the nation for three years. The jobless rate has been 9 percent or higher for all but two months since June 2009.

Despite the jobs news, the Dow Jones industrial average closed down 61 points, principally because of concern over Greece's initial effort to put its austerity plan to a public vote. Prime Minister George Papandreou backed away from the plan, but investors are still unnerved by the political turmoil in Greece. It threatens to hobble Europe's efforts to control its debt crisis.

Papandreou survived a confidence vote in parliament early Saturday, but investors want the political and economic situation in Greece to be resolved. They're worried that if Greece defaults, it could cripple European banks and cause fiscal strain on much larger European countries like Italy, which are too big to bail out.

Greece, Ireland and Portugal -- all relatively small countries -- have received financial lifelines from international lenders.

The Dow fell 61.23 points, or 0.51 percent, to close at 11,983.24. It had been down as many as 194 points after the first hour of trading.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 7.92, or 0.63 percent, to 1,253.23. The Nasdaq composite shed 11.82, or 0.44 percent, to 2,686.15.

The S&P 500 fell 2.5 percent for the week, while the Nasdaq dropped 1.9 percent.

Economists pointed out other bright spots in the unemployment report: Average hourly wages rose 5 cents a week, to $23.19. More pay for workers means they have more spending power in the economy. Many businesses are waiting for customer demand to pick up before they hire in big numbers again.

"Overall, while this report is not good enough, several key numbers are now moving in the right direction," Ian Shepherdson, an economist at High Frequency Economics, a data analysis company, told clients. He said the prospects for the next few months "seem to be improving."

The job gain was the smallest in four months. And because the population is always growing, it takes many more jobs, about 125,000 a month, to keep up with population growth, more to bring down the unemployment rate.

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