Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 6, 2011

APRIL SHOWS SURPRISINGLY STRONG JOB GROWTH.... With nearly all the recent economic news looking quite discouraging, expectations were low for the new monthly unemployment report. Nearly every estimate suggested the job market was getting worse, and that April would show a decline from previous months, dipping to about 185,000 jobs created.

It comes as something of a relief, then, that this morning's report didn't just greatly exceed expectations, it's arguably the single best month for jobs since the Great Recession began in 2007.

The Labor Department says the economy added 244,000 jobs last month. Private employers shrugged off high gas prices and created 268,000 jobs -- the most since February 2006.

The gains were widespread. Retailers, factories, financial companies, education and health care and even construction companies all added jobs. Federal, state and local governments cut jobs.

The unemployment rate ticked higher, from 8.8% to 9%, but as we've talked about before, that's not the most reliable gauge. Indeed, as April's report helps demonstrate, the unemployment rate can go up when more jobs are created, and go down when fewer jobs are created. It's just quirky that way.

The number to watch is the total number of jobs created. And in this case, the economy added 244,000 jobs in April. That's the third highest total since the recession started, and the single-best month when one excludes Census-related jobs. By most measures, this is the fastest job growth Americans have seen in five years.

Also note, the total would have been even higher had it not been for state and local budget cuts -- the private sector added 268,000 jobs, but the public sector lost 24,000 jobs. Those were jobs that could have been saved were it not for conservative fiscal policies.

Nevertheless, this is the third good jobs report in as many months, and offers hope that the employment market is finally getting back on track. So far in 2011, the economy has added 768,000 jobs -- and that just covers four months.

To be sure, to have robust growth that would bring the unemployment rate down in a hurry, we'd need to see even stronger employment numbers, but given the hole we've been in, what we're looking for a significant steps in the right direction. That's exactly the news we received today.

Just as encouraging, the totals from February and March were both significantly revised upwards.

From a purely political perspective, policymakers would ideally look at figures like these, and consider ways to keep the momentum going. Regrettably, congressional Republicans continue to fight for austerity measures that would reverse the progress on purpose. This morning's report should offer Washington a big hint: if we want more good news, the GOP plan needs to be rejected.

Once again, here's the homemade chart I run on the first Friday of every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession. 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 (18)

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I'm glad things are getting better, but when it comes to jobs I'm still in the 'ain't got one' column. :'(

Posted by: c u n d gulag on May 6, 2011 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

the comment here that sticks out is "if it not for conservative fiscal policies"
Many states, with newly elected TeaParty congressmen, are busy writing budgets that kill thousands of jobs. This is part of the overall national Republican plan to torpedo the economy -specifically the employment situation- to harm Obama's political chances. The more they do it, the more visible it is to the Average Joe which Party is helping and which is not.

Posted by: T2 on May 6, 2011 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

How many of those jobs are for low-paying jobs, I wonder. Having a job, any job, is not the end-all-be-all.

Posted by: tommybones on May 6, 2011 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Guess that will be the Republicans' cue to start whining, "Where are the jobs?"

Posted by: hells littlest angel on May 6, 2011 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Clap louder, c u n d.

Whatever else you do, don't try to change the status quo. You get to vote for the Republican Party of austerity or the Democratic Party of austerity. If you suggest that anything else would be better, you're not a Very Serious Person.

Posted by: Tom Allen on May 6, 2011 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

Well, we have tens of thousands of federal lay-offs in the pipeline due to the last budget deal. This will be added to accelerated State level lay-offs. As PK notes, the quality of these private sector jobs being created leaves much to be desired. And you still aren't extending that graph far enough to the left so that we can see what normal job creation looks like before a recession. Even for a failed administration. What all of this adds up to is the fact that this is very very anemic not nearly enough to actually get the economy moving again. It is the real root of the problem not a symptom of the problem as it is being treated as. Until our policy makers figure that one out we are literally doomed to remain in this trap.

Posted by: SW on May 6, 2011 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

But in really important news, did anyone hear Rachel Maddow last night? She called Steve Benen the best political blogger in the country. And ya know what? She's correct.

Posted by: ESM on May 6, 2011 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

just as "Just in Time" inventory control was the new kid on the block a few decades ago, "Temp Hires" became the way to streamline business during the downturn.

today, on CNBC, it was reported that many companies are turning those temps into full time employees- with all the benefits/costs involved. That trend, however, (hiring temps, and 'subcontractors') will continue.

Somewhere else yesterday there was a discussion of how the downsizing has led to stress among remaining employees, who work more hours and fear for their jobs.

"Until our policy makers figure that one out we are literally doomed to remain in this trap." Posted by: SW at 9:04 AM

American voters will have to decide next year if this nation will have a vibrant middle class, or will we become a fascist (in the Mussolini definition of the term) oligarchy.

Posted by: DAY on May 6, 2011 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Happy to say this job report comes close to home -two people close to me who have been looking for jobs for over a year, were hired into jobs that have fairly decent salaries (graphic design and medical industries). In spite of Republican treason, (seriously, what else can one call a deliberate attempt to sabotage the country's economy?) I'm so glad the Democratic Party put into place strong enough policies and actions that are STILL producing results - again, IN SPITE of Republicans coming up with every single thing they can dream up in an effort to keep the country perpetually miserable.

Posted by: June on May 6, 2011 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

These job increases must be weighed against the fact that the republicans at both the national and state levels are doing everything they possibly can to stiffle any economic recovery. I think that a lot of the increased jobs may be coming from truly small businesses--small mom and pop operations with no ties to Wall Street--that are ignoring the gloom and doom predictions from the right. However, the republican led state legislatures are doing their best to slow things down. Here in Texas (yeah, I know there's a bounty on liberals in Texas, but so far Perry's posse hasn't tracked me down) the budget that's on track to be passed will lead to close to 80,000 job losses in education alone. The lege claims that they're not cutting any jobs; they're simply cutting state funding and forcing the local school districts to make the cuts. So, what type of positions are having to be cut: librarians, school nurses, gifted/talented instructors, curriculum directors, teachers aides, specialists who help kids with reading and math classes, and many extra curricular programs. Teachers also face pay cuts, short notice layoffs, larger classes, increased health care costs,and a permanent freeze on retirement benefits. Bottom line is that the republicans mismanagement of the state's budget is leading to poorer schools in addition to much higher unemployment in this state. If other states follow Texas' lead in the race for the educational bottom, nationwide job losses in education alone will erase any other job gains for the next couple of years. Of course, the republicans will blame Obama for all of this.

Posted by: sparky on May 6, 2011 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is underutilization of our capacity because of a lack of demand. Period. All of our genus economic policy makers out there should be able to grasp this simple fact. I would simply beg them to ask themselves why demand is so low?

Is it possible that low demand is caused by high unemployment?

The unemployed obviously have reduced demand. The underemployed who are legion have reduced demand. And every else reduces their consumption because they fear becoming one of the above. So, if you accept the notion that high unemployment reduces demand, and that reduced demand is the source of our poor economic performance please consider policies that would address this issue. Because if you don't there is no reason, absolutely no reason to expect things to get any more than marginally better.

This may lead to temporary expenditures. Temporary increases in the budget deficit. That is the federal government's job. And of course the opposition will try to block that because they do not want a robust recovery to occur while their enemies are in power. This should be easy to understand politically and it should be easy to explain to the American people. Why aren't we hearing this story?

Posted by: SW on May 6, 2011 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

please don't say know-nothing things like "it's just quirky that way" about unemployment going down while jobs go up and vice versa. It's not quirks, it's actually very important information about people's optimism or pessimism regarding the economy.

The unemployment rate counts only the people who report (yes, it's a survey, done every month) actively looking for a job. If they've gone back to school or are volunteering somewhere or are sitting at home trying to decide whether to jump off a bridge, they're not unemployed by the official BLS definition. So the uptick in the unemployment rate mixed with an encouraging jobs report means that a few hundred thousand people who had given up completely on trying to find a paying job are now going back out there to try again.

The big question is whether they're going to be disappointed. Again.

Posted by: paul on May 6, 2011 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

You're completely right, SW. Good luck finding a Democratic politician who agrees with you.

Posted by: Tom Allen on May 6, 2011 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

What we are seeing is the perils to the Republicans of being led around by their base. Their rabid base thought that they could bring Obama down by tanking the economy and preventing a recovery.

They correctly deduced that the administration's fortunes were tied to the economy so they decided that if they pursued policies that intentionally kept unemployment high, it would keep the economy from recovering and Obama would be a one-term President like Carter.

The strategic problem for them is that if they come close to pulling that off but fail, it is the worst of both worlds for them. Obama gets re-elected and Republican economic policy becomes the whipping boy for why the economy sucks. And we have another change election in 2012 in the Congress with Obama holding onto the White House. Obama can make his bones on foreign policy and simply looking more competent than the buffoons that are put up against him.

A far better strategy for them would have been to take advantage of Obama's centrist tendencies and pursue job growth strategies that are conservative in nature. Then, when the economy picked up, they could have claimed ideological credit for it and tried to expand their majority in congress and perhaps take over the Senate. But they are blinded by hate. They are obsessed with the losing proposition of trying to take down Obama. And they will not do anything that will improve the economy for fear of strengthening Obama's hand in 2012.

Posted by: SW on May 6, 2011 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

In essence, they are too stupid to be effective adversaries. The Democrat's only real adversaries are their own conservative members.

Posted by: SW on May 6, 2011 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Why aren't we hearing this story?

I dunno, maybe it's because last November, "we the people" told our political establishment that we weren't interested in that story. We wanted a healthy dose of austerity, fiscal conservatism, and "common sense." Of course none of that will help the country get back on its feet.

Posted by: AK Liberal on May 6, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

What tommybones and SW said.

Steve, how about a piece on just what kinds of jobs these are? What's the average salary/hourly pay? What's the average cost of benefits paid by the employer?

Because I can't help the feeling that these are not very good jobs.

Posted by: LL on May 6, 2011 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

62K of those jobs were McDonald's hires. Yay for all the new well paying jobs!

Posted by: Moderate Mom on May 6, 2011 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK
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