Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 2, 2010

BREAKTHROUGH MONTH FOR U.S. JOB MARKET.... For a year, the most common Republican talking point on the economy has been a straightforward, four-word question: "Where are the jobs?" In light of the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released this morning, the GOP may need a new argument.

The American economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department reported Friday, in a month when the government hired thousands of temporary census workers.

The unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, the Labor Department said, but it is expected to worsen later this year as discouraged workers re-enter the labor force. [...]

[E]conomists said the ambiguity surrounding the data did not change the underlying prognosis for the labor market. Many believe the economy has reached a turning point and will begin adding jobs at a slow, but steady, pace.

The jobs report is easily the best we've seen since the start of the Great Recession late 2007, and the strongest overall in three years. With revised numbers for recent months, March is now the third month to show positive job growth since the start of the economic downturn, but last month's totals far exceeded the modest totals from November 2009 and January 2010.

By popular demand, I've revamped the homemade chart I run on the first Friday of every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession. Now, the image makes a distinction -- red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration.


Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Thanks for the valuable chart, though you should change that second 'red' to 'blue'.

Posted by: jcbirk on April 2, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Good job Steve! You were able to take a crappy jobs number, one below expectations, and turn it into an Obama talking point!

Posted by: Rob on April 2, 2010 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

As many of these recent jobs are for census workers, this isn't a particularly strong argument. Those jobs will disappear after several months.

Many of those who saw the recession coming believe the job situation is going to be dire for years to come. While people can argue over whose policies lead to this condition, the party in power tends to get blamed.

This is a bad, bad recession (really a stealth depression, masked over by the unemployment insurance and extraordinary efforts to keep the banks afloat and people in their homes). It is going to take some time to dig ourselves out of this one.

Posted by: Chrisbo on April 2, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

This is good news, but these numbers also are frequently re-scaled after the Friday release. It pays to be a little skeptical. (NB: the markets probably haven't priced this in, so today's stock markets should pop.)

Posted by: Rathskeller on April 2, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Whwwwweeeeeeeeeeee! I'm all dizzy from the spin!

Why just yesterday Geithner was all "unacceptable" unemployment we'd hafta have for a long long time, but now....

April Fools Day, ha ha!!!1! USA USA USA

we're startin'tuh get usta 10% employment...just like our corporate masters planned.

what fuckin' geniuses!

whatta country!

Posted by: neill on April 2, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

that's a great chart, clear, clean, easy to understand -- except if you are a ultra-conssrvative republican who will see it but deny its existance.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on April 2, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Chrisbo is right. We could easily experience a serious dip once the temporary census and seasonal IRS workers are let go. What are we doing to encourage exports?

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 2, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

" What are we doing to encourage exports?" -Ron Byers

Well, we're planting record acres of grains-mostly corn and beans- and the Chinese are eagerly waiting for both of those crops to come to harvest.

That aside, Ron is right- it's time to start MAKING stuff here. Machinists, welders, engineers make more money than burger flippers. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 2, 2010 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

You know folks, it is possible to click through to the actual article and find out more about the data before spouting off about it in the comments. 48,000 of the new jobs were government hires for the Census. That means that over 100,000 of the hires were by private industry. Again, compared to where we've been, this is GREAT news.

Posted by: Dan on April 2, 2010 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Some clarifications--Census only accounts for 50,000 jobs in March,much less than expected. The number is actually below expectations which had been factored into the market which is closed today anyway. The best news is that the private sector added more jobs than expected. Personally, I think we are well into a cyclical recovery, but the jobs numbers are not better because we are in a structural depression and have been since 2001. In addition to globalization the limitations of the US labor force to deal with the technology of the 21st century and the various factors--some intentional and some unintentional- which have so greatly increased wealth inequality in this country, means that an unemployment rate near 10% and an underemployment, discouraged worker, and unemployment rate near 20% is likely to last for decades of slow growth unless the next big thing appears in the interim like railroads, the automobile and pcs.

Posted by: Terry on April 2, 2010 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

I love that chart. Some have referred to it as the bikini chart. Well it looks a bikini string is emerging on the right. Awesome.

Posted by: Ladyhawke on April 2, 2010 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

In regards to "seasonal" jobs, what about the warmer "seasonal" jobs that will start to hire? Tourism, landscaping, and home improvement come to mind. While some can nitpick numbers, the trend is positive and the numbers being nitpicked are small. One can hopey that things will changey, can't one?

Posted by: flyonthewall on April 2, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, don't want to piss in the punch bowl but the reason the administration isn't making a big deal about this is that most folks can add and realize that the thing that pushes these numbers into positive territory is the census. Still, it is perhaps a very good illustration of the fact that there isn't a god damn thing wrong with a public job. A job is a job and the refrain that the job is temporary doesn't carry a lot of weight. If we had good public policy, we would have jobs programs that weren't. There is no reason, absolutely no reason with the documented infrastructure needs that we have that we aren't putting massive numbers of people to work today, except for a blind fear of a failed ideology.

Posted by: SW on April 2, 2010 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

That giant sucking sound you hear is the Republican tide starting to ebb.

Posted by: bob h on April 2, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

Even though a flat rate in Oregon is considered a "Victory", just think, Papa Murphy's has been sold to Lee Equity of New York, so, there will more pizza joints springing up. Not to forget Smashburger has 16 stores on the drawing boards and Oregon and Washington States to be stormed as Smashburger sends their flippers across from Boise.

Yes, Happy Days are, indeed, hear again. As the Luftwaffe pilot said in "The Longest Day", another "Great Victory".

Posted by: berttheclock on April 2, 2010 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

You know folks, it is possible to click through to the actual article and find out more about the data before spouting off about it in the comments.

You don't understand. They live to bitch. They need it like coffee in the morning.

Posted by: Mart on April 2, 2010 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

As to the Census, there were comments in the Oregonian, that the Census Bureau reported being very pleased with the high level of intelligence shown on their testing. Reminds me of a comment from a Wal*Mart official about the high level of prospective employees found for Helena, MT, where 70% of the popultation worked for governmental entities, from Federal down to local. He was so pleased they could fill their low paying jobs with such intelligence. Yeah, sure is great when so many BA, MAs and PhDs are available for temporary and/or low paying positions. We will soon have the best educated janitorial staffs in the Western world.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 2, 2010 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

The only endorsement from Benen that I would ever trust would be which is the best paper towel for wiping Obama's cum off his chin.

That would assume that you want to wipe it off and not post picture of it to your Facebook.

Truly, you suck.

Posted by: Captain Obvious on April 2, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Too much snark, comrades. Of course 9.7% sucks. But 114,000 jobs [w/o census] is good news. Get of your damn keyboards and do something productive. Have a great weekend.

Posted by: bigtuna on April 2, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

That would be Mr. Benen and President Obama to you Captain Oblivious.

Posted by: flyonthewall on April 2, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

As one of those (very) temporary census workers, I can say that the actual impact will be slight, both in money earned and work performed.

So far I have had 20 hours of training at $13.25 an hour, and will actually use my expertise next week, for about an hour. After that, who knows?

It is, after all, the Government we are talking about. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 2, 2010 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

So hiring 'thousands of temporary census workers' counts as job creation. Hmmm...nothing like skewing the numbers.

Posted by: J on April 2, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Snark, my ass. The unemployment rate has been unacceptably high for months and the administration is not doing enough about it. That will come back to haunt them hard in 2010. I hope I'm wrong.

Captain Obvious--you're an asshole. But then again, you knew that.

Posted by: cc on April 2, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

While I may very well be an asshole, that does not make any of you any less moronic.

Jerking off on each other's faces over temporary hires is so reminiscent of that "we've rounded the corner" smoke from hiring part-time Christmas mall Santas. Or the "unexpected" job losses from the first of the year because of the weather of all things.

When AT&T, Caterpillar, Deere and the rest start posting billions of dollars in losses the first thing that's going to be cut are those S,G & A costs. More firings, less benefits or no benefits.

You're fucking the country up with your policies. But then again, that was the point, right?

Posted by: Captain Obvious on April 2, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

I woulnd't be so glib about this. Obviously, anytime the economy adds jobs, it's a good thing, but consider:

1) 50K of those jobs are temporary and reflect the government's hiring in relation to the census;

2) Much of the private sector growth was in the temporary services sector. Again, most of those jobs are not permanent; and

3) The overall unemployment rate hasn't budged. Why? because previously discouraged workers are now looking for work again. Look for this phenomenon to continue as the economy adds jobs. Frankly, I'd be shocked if, by the end of the year, the unemployment rate is below 9%

Posted by: e on April 2, 2010 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

In January or so, were they not talking about hiring several hundred thousand? And they wind up hiring 40,000 nationwide? My sister is one of the hires, and she works three hours per day, providing information at a relatively small shopping mall in Salt Lake City. If that is the kind of placements they are making, I have a very hard time believing that they hired a mere 48,000 people.

Posted by: Bill H on April 2, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

"The unemployment rate has been unacceptably high for months"

Look at the way we were bleeding jobs in the months leading up to August 2008... And how things tanked for five months after that.

Almost every month has been an improvement since then. Even leaving out the census bump, the situation now looks better than it was under Bush before the big crash.

The red bars are a picture of someone held underwater. In August 2008, they inhaled and began to drown. In Feb 2009, someone hauled them out and started pumping water out of their lungs. Now they're breathing again, and you think that a proper response is, "waah, why am I still coughing up water?!?!"

Posted by: Kreniigh on April 2, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

i love the way that even politically aware, educated progressives somehow think that Obama has some magic wand by which he can undo 8 years of extraordinary damage to every aspect of government and the economy in a year -- but he is just choosing not to use it.

all the quibbling over the details each month doesn't come close to changing the overall details of that picture: the trend line has been in the right direction under Obama. period. Obama's economic perfomance has been better than his Republican predecessor. period.

is the unemployment rate still too high? absolutely.
are there additional things a government could do to bring it down faster. probably.
is there a chance in hell that the Senate had the 60 votes to do more? not on your life.

but go ahead and blame Obama anyway. its what any good Republican trying to get Bushies back in power would do in the face of positive news.


Posted by: zeitgeist on April 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans, after digging a huge hole and leaving it to the Democrats to fill, are now complaining that we've only just about filled the hole.

Really? That's your point?

Posted by: Lance on April 2, 2010 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

i love the way that even politically aware, educated progressives somehow think that Obama has some magic wand by which he can undo 8 years of extraordinary damage to every aspect of government and the economy in a year -- but he is just choosing not to use it.

Presto change-o is exactly what some expect. For the history of unemployment and the rebounds, use this handy dandy customizable chart that even shows Sir Ronny dealing with 10%+ unemployment for 10 consecutive months. The trend here fits the pattern, slow job growth.


Posted by: flyonthewall on April 2, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

"...the GOP may need a new argument."

We already know what they're going to say: 'Yeah sure, the economy's getting better but it's doing so despite the job-killing policies of the Obama Administration, not because of them.'

Posted by: leo on April 2, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Census workers = government work program stimulus?

If it weren't in the Constitution, conservatives would be howling about the socialism involved.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 2, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Houston, we have liftoff!

Posted by: ted on April 2, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Only partisan hacks can argue with a straight face that the current high unemployment rate is a consequence of Obama's economic policies. After the last administration literally blew up the economy and nearly created the conditions to destroy the global economic system, the fact that the thing has been essentially stabilized and is on track to begin growing again is a triumph of competence. The only thing preventing a significant decrease in the unemployment rate is the residual sway that free market idolotry has in this country. We shouldn't be apologizing for the public nature of the census jobs. It is simply their temporary character that is regrettable. What is needed is a large expansion of the public sector to put people back to work. The fiscal scolds will howl. Let them. They have been full of shit since the dawn of time.

Posted by: SW on April 2, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I find the chart quite interesting, particularly since the pattern in it that I detect is invisible to Republicans. :)

Posted by: Leisureguy on April 2, 2010 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

Rather than color this by President in office, lets color it by party in power in the Congress. Now it makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: Casual Observer on April 2, 2010 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Amazing. Jobless numbers hold steady. Lucky thing we hired all those census workers. That's as funny (Bad fish smell, not HAHA) as going from creating a gazillion jobs to retaining a gazillion jobs. Semantics, semantics. Ever notice how a microphone turns a politician (any party) into a liar? Hey lefty freaks, Bush is gone, long live the "new king". Shut the FF** up already about Bush. You need to start trying to explain the new stupidity that your guy is up to. We all know about the stupidity of Bush. The new guy is starting to make Bush look like a spelling bee winner (or at least a math wiz).

Posted by: RobinP on April 2, 2010 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Lots of Republican "yah-but, yah-but, yah-but" here.

Posted by: lida on April 2, 2010 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

A few points to consider: (1) Since Jan 2008, The trend in the job loss/gain line is definitely in the right direction (2) as noted, there's nothing wrong with public jobs, the money spends the same (3) Every person working gov or private spends most of the money they make, thus the local economies are boosted, and (4) ALL jobs are temporary,Americans change jobs (usually voluntarily) on average every 3.2 years.

Posted by: Max Culpa on April 2, 2010 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that recessions are inherent in the business cycles of expansion/stagnation/contraction. Why the political parties and politicians get held accountable in some respect of them .... beats me. Perhaps it's because we have lost touch with what government is supposed to be and do, and where it should stand aside. A phrase containing "create jobs", when attached to an action of government, is patently silly.

2/3rds of the 26 (depending on how you count, of course), downturns in this country's history have lasted between 10 and 20 months; the economy self-corrects. Even the worst policies in Washington have been unable to crash the US economy, although I suppose there can be a "first".

I wish Barack Obama would help educate the country about this instead of perpetuating, and indeed STRENGTHENING, perceptions that Washington is somehow supposed to directly or even significantly influence consumer behavior, investment strategy, productivity fluctuations, profitability of key industries and sectors, etc.

Posted by: Terry Ott on April 3, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

One more note, and this from John Mauldin, a guru of the economy and investment trends (see: "John Mauldin's Thoughts from the Frontline"). You can easily subscribe to his newsletter which now goes to about a million people. He notes:

"Remember, we need about 125,000 new jobs a month to just keep up with the growth in our population. Though if you look at today's employment release, they added a whopping 398,000 people to the civilian labor force (a huge number when compared to the 162,000 new jobs - a discrepancy you didn't read about in any report.). What kept the unemployment rate from rising significantly was that they deducted 238,000 people who are no longer considered unemployed, due to the fact that they have given up looking for jobs. The U-6 unemployment rate rose to 16.0%, however. The U-6 rate includes people who have part-time work but wish they had full-time work. That part-time number rose above 9 million again this month, in a rather large monthly jump."

My point is simply that we probably need some help from unbiased sources when trying to make sense out of the numbers we see in headlines or speeches.

Posted by: Terry Ott on April 3, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Drink that kool-aid Benan. Your homemade chart is entirely fraudulent as it never re-adjusts BLS' politically inconvenient revisions. Granted, BLS has been posting only good numbers for the headlines and correcting them worse when nobody's paying attention long before this adminsitration. But you just ignore those corrections entirely. Check shadowstats.com for some real numbers, or counsumermetricsinstitute.com to preview the real numbers 6-9 months in advance.
There are millions of actual people out there who are unemployed and looking for work that's nowhere in sight. Shame on you for pulling the rug over them to suck up to the administration.

Posted by: Duke on May 20, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

When people are looking for a cause for the recession, take a look at the history of gasoline prices about the time the job losses started. Gas had hit $4 per gallon in CA in May of 08. There were "experts" on the national media suggesting the possibility at the time, but one the losses were coming hot and heavy, I don't remember hearing any more.
How to get the jobs back is a different question.

Posted by: TcTom on August 10, 2010 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

Where is your latest updated unemployment chart?

Posted by: Louis on October 6, 2010 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK



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