Maybe the problem isn't that there aren't enough jobs. Perhaps there are simply too many people.
How else do you explain the economic trends reported last week?
Let's review a few economic stats real quickly:
- Friday-after-Thanksgiving retail sales: solidly in the black.
- Cyber Monday: out of this world.
- Economic growth: inflating like a balloon in the Macy's parade. According to the Federal Reserve, 10 of its 12 regions are pumping up. The other two, Philadelphia and St. Louis, had mixed results.
No wonder there was a wholesale rush into stocks last week. Some even saw a bull market amid the stampede. Goldman Sachs predicted the Standard & Poor's 500 could climb 19 percent next year.
Then came what could perhaps be called Blacker Friday. Late last week, the government announced that the unemployment rate is rising, not falling. November's rate climbed to 9.8 percent from 9.6 percent.
The total number of jobs created: a whopping 39,000. That's an increase of 0.03 percent (and that's with rounding up). By way of comparison, redwoods grow faster, according to the website for California State Parks.
Certainly, a few niches in the job market provided comfort and joy as the nation entered the holiday season. One is temporary help, which was up 40,000 positions. Presumably, that includes holiday Santas. The Department of Labor release wasn't quite so specific. But their reason to be jolly will likely end rather abruptly later this month.
Surprisingly, the stock market went up Friday after the news. Bull market? Perhaps. But the country's 15.1 million unemployed would likely pair that phrase's adjective with an earthier noun. The economy, it sometimes seems, is recovering without them.
In fact, a recent study by the Brookings Institute found that half of all the unemployed have been out of work for 21 weeks. A quarter of the unemployed haven't had a job for more than a year. ''The longer a worker is unemployed, the less likely he or she is to find a new job and the more likely he or she is to find only a lower-paying job,'' the report noted.
Not everyone was alarmed -- at least publicly -- by Friday's figures. Jared Bernstein, an economic adviser to President Barack Obama, messaged a New York Times reporter that "one month does not a new trend make.''
True enough. Then again, unemployment has been above 9 percent for 19 months now, a post-World War II record. That seems trendy.
Meanwhile, Moody's Economy.com recently predicted national job growth of under 1 percent through the third quarter of next year. Right about the time, they'll be looking for holiday Santas again.
Coming up this week, we'll get a new reading on unemployment claims and some fresh statistics on America's trade balances.
The trade deficit this year has been sharply higher compared to 2009. And as with jobs, there are many people hoping that trend will end.