Unemployment falls sharply in US, rises in Europe

Posted Feb. 03, 2012, at 9:01 p.m.

America’s job market is starting to heal just as other major economies contend with rising unemployment and the threat of recession.

The unemployment rate fell faster in the United States in 2011 than it did in all but three of the 31 countries measured by the Associated Press’ Global Economy Tracker. Only Germany, Russia and Turkey had faster declines.

On Friday, the government said the U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs in January and that unemployment fell to 8.3 percent, its lowest point in three years.

The strength of the U.S. job market relative to other wealthy nations marks a reversal from the situation as recently as a year ago: The American labor market was hit harder than others by the Great Recession. And it was initially slower to recover.

But now, U.S. factories are busier. And consumers are more willing to spend than they were a year ago, giving businesses the confidence to increase hiring.

At the same time, Europe’s economy has deteriorated over the past year and may already have slipped into recession.

To reduce their debts, European governments have raised taxes and cut government spending. This has helped lower their borrowing costs. But it’s also contributed to weaker growth and rising unemployment across much of Europe. Greece and Spain have been especially hard hit. Germany’s powerful economy has so far been unscathed by Europe’s troubles.

The unemployment figures sometimes reflect the idiosyncratic way different countries report unemployment.

China’s unemployment rate, for instance, is almost always low. And it doesn’t fluctuate much. In December, the official Chinese rate was 4.1 percent. It’s remained between 4 percent and 4.3 percent since 2003.

But the CIA, which compiles information on foreign economies, notes that China doesn’t count among its unemployed the migrants who flock to Chinese cities in search of work. Once you include them, China’s unemployment rate looks more like 9 percent.

Likewise, Thailand’s rock-bottom 0.8 percent unemployment rate is skewed in part because the government counts beggars as gainfully employed.

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