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Job Losses Ease in July, but Economic Picture Still Mixed

The U.S. economy shed fewer jobs than expected in July, according to new Labor Department figures. Experts discuss what the data says about the job market and an economic recovery.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. economy served up a surprise today. New data from July showed unemployment actually fell and the number of jobs lost was smaller than expected.

    Jeffrey Brown has our lead story report.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It was the 19th month in a row of job losses, as businesses cut another 247,000 employees. But that was about 80,000 fewer than expected. It was also down sharply from June and was, by far, the smallest monthly total this year.

    KEITH HALL, commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics: Two hundred and forty-seven thousand jobs, that's a lot of jobs, and that's a big loss. But given the context of the sort of job loss that we've been having, this is a good trend at the moment.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Keith Hall, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, appeared at a joint congressional hearing this morning. He said the bulk of layoffs in most industries, such as the auto sector, have already happened. And employees worked more hours last month, after sinking to a record low in June.

    The overall unemployment rate was down slightly, to 9.4 percent, as thousands of people stopped looking for work.

    But White House officials said they still expect it to top 10 percent this year.

  • KEITH HALL:

    I would say that we're not in recovery yet. This is the path that we have to go to get to recovery. We expect to see moderation first before we start actually getting improvement in the labor market.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In the meantime, some of the 14.5 million Americans out of work face the potential loss of unemployment benefits, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised action.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Senate majority leader: Soon after Congress returns to Washington, we'll need to address this matter. The unemployment benefits are a sound investment. There should be no disagreement that we must help those who are suffering as a result of an economic crisis they didn't create.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Congress has already extended unemployment benefits three times during this recession.

    And for a closer look at today's numbers, we turn to Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, a diversified financial services firm in Chicago, and Jim Ellis, assistant managing editor at BusinessWeek magazine.

    Well, Diane Swonk, companies are still shedding jobs, but not as quickly. So, relatively speaking, better than expected?

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