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Jobs picture improves, but there's still a long way to go

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

(Read caption) This chart from shows the unemployment and underemployment rates through December 2011. Both rates have improved over the past two years, but Marron argues that growth is still too slow.

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Friday’s jobs data confirmed that labor markets are getting better, but slowly. Payrolls expanded by 200,000, the unemployment rate fell again to 8.5%, weekly hours ticked up from 34.3 to 34.4, and hourly earnings rose by 0.2%.

Of course, there is still a long, long way to go. Unemployment and underemployment both remain very high, but they’ve been moving in the right direction. After peaking at 10% in October 2009, the unemployment rate has declined by 1.5 percentage points. The U-6 measure of underemployment, meanwhile, peaked at 17.2% and now stands at 15.2%:

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(The U-6 measures includes the officially unemployed, marginally attached workers, and those who are working part-time but want full-time work.)