The nation's businesses added a whopping 321,000 jobs in November, demonstrating strength in the job market. But Kenny Dubin, who runs a recruiting company in Bala Cynwyd, didn't need Friday's report from the U.S. Labor Department to evaluate the economy.
"October and November were the two best direct-hire months in the history of my company," said Dubin, chief executive of the Dubin Group, founded in 1998.
Not only did the nation's payrolls add 321,000 jobs in November, beating expectations, but the Labor Department revised data from earlier months, adding 44,000 jobs to the numbers reported in September and October. Every major sector saw increased hiring - manufacturing, retail, government, health, education, business.
The unemployment rate stayed the same, at 5.8 percent.
In New York, Wall Street liked the news, and all three major U.S. stock indexes rose Friday.
In Bala Cynwyd, Dubin has a barometer that he uses to read the economy. If companies hire him to recruit administrative assistants, then the labor market is on the upswing.
"When the economy is bad, they let them go," he said.
In November, he placed four administrative assistants who are commanding higher wages than they had in prior years. When companies hire people who don't directly contribute to the bottom line, it indicates that they have confidence in the future and that they finally can afford to support their frontline staff, Dubin said.
Another indicator? Companies are hiring recruiters - at least on a contract basis, to increase staff size, said Scott Rosen, who leads the Rosen Group, a Cherry Hill company that specializes in human resource recruitment.
Even so, the job market has yet to recover to prerecession levels set in December 2007.
While the economy has generated enough jobs to match prerecession levels, it has not grown enough to also accommodate population growth. Economists figure that about 100,000 jobs a month are needed just to stay even, or about 6.6 million more to catch up to the growth since 2007.
Looking ahead, area pharmaceutical companies have announced job cuts and owners of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City now say they will close the casino Dec. 20, laying off 3,000.
"The jobs report might sound good on the surface - but look closer and there was a decrease of 150,000 full-time" employees, even as part-time workers increased, said Bart Ruff, founder of My Career Transitions, a nonprofit group that helps professionals in the Philadelphia area make the transition to new jobs.
"Our members aren't celebrating, and our free meetings are still full to capacity with about 150 people each month meeting at Penn State Great Valley. The Labor Department is spinning a good story out of what little they have to work with," he said.
Meanwhile, in November, wages rose slightly, by nine cents an hour on an average hourly wage of $24.66, the Labor Department reported. But they didn't rise enough to indicate any real pressure on the job market, said Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
The numbers are good, "but it is going to take a long time before it starts to get us to the level of employment where wages might go up," Cappelli said.
"We're seeing a lot of lower-paying jobs," said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, an advocacy group.
"The job market has loosened up," Dodds said. "But one of the problems is that a lot of the jobs aren't paying so well. We're getting fast-food, retail, home health - the problem is, those jobs need to pay something."
Dodds said that older workers can't seem to land jobs and Generation Opportunity, a national, nonpartisan youth advocacy organization, says that the unemployment rate among young people, age 18 to 29, is nearly double the general population's. For African American youth, it is close to triple.
At Beyond.com, the King of Prussia behind-the-scenes operator of job boards in many professions and in many geographies, Joe Weinlick, vice president of marketing, says postings are up. Workers are more optimistic.
He knows, he said, because a year ago, the company surveyed employees about working on Thanksgiving. Two-thirds responded that they were either working on Turkey Day or thought that it could be an important necessity.
This year, Weinlick said, workers are more confident, because a solid majority said it was more important to be with family than to spend time on the job.
"They aren't," he said, "as desperate as they were last year."