Is Santa Hiring?

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WASHINGTON: Unpleasant surprise: Thanks to a screw-up at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' web site Thursday, some of its monthly employment figures were posted a day early -- and they weren't pretty. The nation's employers added only 116,000 positions to their payrolls in October, 80,000 fewer than expected. And though unemployment held steady at 4.7 percent, TIME senior economics reporter Bernard Baumohl says this Christmas season is starting to look a little bleak.

"Job creation and the economy at large are definitely slowing, and layoffs are the highest they've been in three years," he says. "The labor market is weakening, and that's got to have an effect on consumer spending sooner or later." According to retailers, it hasn't hit yet -- October sales were generally strong, but it was perhaps telling that cheapo giants Wal-Mart and Kmart were the big winners. Folks fearing for their jobs tend to skimp on the gifts -- and after Thursday, that might include a civil servant or two over at the BLS.