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U.S. adds jobs, despite Hurricane Sandy impact

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Though economists expected Hurricane Sandy to devastate November employment, the private sector held its hiring pace steady last month, adding 147,000 jobs to the U.S. economy and edging down the unemployment rate to 7.7 percent, from 7.9 percent in October, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

"I think theSandyimpact is still in there, but the data suggests the job loss in the affected areas was compensated by stronger-than-expected job growth elsewhere in the country," said Philip L. Harvey, an economics law professor at Rutgers School of Law–Camden. "There are not a lot of reasons to have strong optimism about this number, but the fact that job growth has continued another month is of itself good news. Still, you can never rely on month-to-month figures, so who knows if this month's number is going to hold up."

Harveynoted Labor revised downward September and October's employment numbers, as 49,000 fewer jobs were created throughout those months than it originally reported. Still, the revised two-month employment gain of 270,000 jobs is only slightly below the 288,000 jobs Labor first said were added to the U.S. economy in September and October.

Even with those negative revisions, average employment growth for the year slightly rose to 158,000 jobs per month — which only narrowly outpaces last year's average gain of 153,000 jobs per month, Labor said.

"The stimulus effect has worn out and the economy will have to chug along on its own engines now — and those are moving along very slowly,"Harveysaid. "I think the economy is showing it's strong enough now to pull itself out of the recession, but it's a fragile recovery, nonetheless."

While Labor said Hurricane Sandy did not significantly impact the November jobs data, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics, said Wednesday the private-sector would have added another 86,000 jobs to the national economy last month — mostly from the small-business side — if the superstorm had not dealt a blow to business activity in the Northeast.

In a statement, William C. Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, said small-business job creation in November "was essentially zero."

"HurricaneSandy's impact on the jobs numbers is substantial," Dunkelberg said in a statement. "Although large national firms will not experience much of an employment impact, thousands of small firms along the East Coast were forced to close, large numbers have not re-opened and many consumers in affected areas can't shop."

According to Labor, the latest monthly private-sector employment gain was driven by service-providing sectors like retail, which added 52,600 jobs; professional and business services, which added 43,000 jobs; health care, which added 22,000 jobs; leisure and hospitality, which added 23,000 jobs; and trade, transportation and utilities, which added 69,000 jobs.

The construction and manufacturing sectors shed a combined 27,000 jobs. As a whole, the goods-producing sector decreased payrolls by 22,000 jobs in November.

Employment in the public sector fell by 1,000 jobs, mostly from job cuts at the federal and local levels, which edged down the total monthlyU.S.nonfarm employment gain to 146,000 jobs.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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