The future is unclear: One of the most difficult things to understand about September's jobs report is how far the job market reality was from the government's stimulus forecast. The White House estimated that with the stimulus, the unemployment rate would peak at 8 percent. Without a clear plan to stimulate future job growth, it's unclear how long it will take for the 15.1 million unemployed to gain re-employment in any significant volume. Employers tend to shy away from the risk of new hires until they are confident of the state of the economy. Even for the long-term unemployed, "when the economy is chugging along, firms are willing to take a chance" on hiring and training, says Katz.
Still, the market is improving, as job losses are much less than they were last winter. "What is still very much open to question is how fast the move will be to stabilization of payrolls and eventually to job growth," says Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR. "We continue to believe that the process will be a slow one and that households will be contending with weak income growth and balance sheet issues for some time."