Political Animal


December 02, 2011 8:55 AM Jobs picture improves, unemployment drops

By Steve Benen

There were modest expectations for the new jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in this case, the economy met them. A net total of 120,000 jobs were created in November, which is just about what economists and analysts said would happen. The same report showed the overall unemployment rate dropping from 9% to 8.6%.

As is always the case, there was a significant gap between the private and public sectors. Businesses added 140,000 jobs last month, while budget cuts forced the public sector to shed 20,000 jobs, which continues to be a major drag on the overall employment picture.

Republican policymakers, it’s worth noting, are eager to force more public-sector layoffs, making the jobs landscape worse on purpose, while Democrats have fought to do the opposite.

We’re still very much in the realm of relative good news. It’s heartening, for example, to see the unemployment drop to its lowest level since March 2009. What’s more, the job totals for both September and October were revised upwards by a combined 62,000 jobs, which is a fairly big revision.

The jobs crisis, however, isn’t even close to being over. Just to keep up with population growth, the economy should be adding over 150,000 jobs a month, and at this point, we haven’t even quite reached this standard.

Policymakers in Washington, in other words, would be making a tragic mistake if they saw the drop in the unemployment rate, dusted off their hands, and said, “Well, I guess we don’t need to worry about this anymore.”

That said, with a month remaining in 2011, we’ve now seen 1.45 million jobs created this year, which isn’t even close to good enough, but which is the strongest year for job creation since 2006. A total of 661,000 jobs have been created since July.

And with that, 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 is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • John Dillinger on December 02, 2011 9:01 AM:

    As the economy improves and unemployment drops even gradually, the Republicans will get increasingly desperate. Expect more hostage taking over the budget.

  • c u n d gulag on December 02, 2011 9:06 AM:

    GOP POV:

    8.6% !!!

    OH NO'S!!!

    No, we want "9.99!"
    Or more...

  • Ron Byers on December 02, 2011 9:19 AM:

    The question is can we sustain this improvement. I don't have a clue, but I do know the Republicans will do everything they can to derail it.

    Here is a question for you. How is Fox News reporting this development? Are they reporting it at all? Have they already pointed out 40 different clouds hanging over the improvement?

  • Brenna on December 02, 2011 9:25 AM:

    Eric Cantor and John Boehner taking credit for the good jobs report: 3...2...1

  • chi res on December 02, 2011 9:30 AM:

    The question is can we sustain this improvement.


    The unemployment rate in January of 2009, when Obama took office, was 7.6 percent. By October of 2012, will it be better or worse?

  • T2 on December 02, 2011 9:41 AM:

    chi res, if it's better/lower then the GOP will say their policies are working and Obama's are failing. If it's higher, the GOP will say that Obama's policies are failing and only their policies (which put us in this mess, by the way) will work better (which we already know they won't).

  • chi res on December 02, 2011 9:51 AM:

    ...if it's better/lower then the GOP will say their policies are working...

    I don't doubt that one bit. Perhaps I'm not quite as cynical about voters gullibility as some others, however, and I see this as one factor that could impact answers to the key presidential voting question: Are you better or worse than you were four years ago?

  • Anonymous on December 02, 2011 2:57 PM:

    Are you all clueless? The reason the unemployment number dropped is because 400,000 people quit looking not because 120,000 jobs were created. Good grief, do a little homework before crowing from the mountaintop.

  • chi res on December 02, 2011 3:04 PM:

    do a little homework before crowing from the mountaintop.

    Um, do a little homework yourself, clueless anon. The U-6, which includes those no longer actively searching for employment, dropped .6%, to the lowest rate since Feb 09.

  • Anonymous on December 02, 2011 3:24 PM:

    The household survey which is what's used to calculate the unemployment rate showed a 278,000 gain in employment and 315,000 people leaving the workforce. I'm happy to see the rate come down but it would be much better if it was because of job creation not people giving up.

    Oh yeah, Table A-15, U-6 includes those who are marginally attached to the labor force not the 315,000 who have just given up.

  • Christine on December 02, 2011 3:28 PM:

    We'll never go above 8%!

  • Creel on December 02, 2011 3:36 PM:

    Steve must never read the NYT:

    For Jobless, Little Hope of Restoring Better Days
    Published: December 1, 2011

    “...The news is strikingly bad,” said Cliff Zukin, a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers who compiled the study, which was based on surveys of a random sample of Americans who were unemployed at some point from August 2008 to August 2009. The numbers represent “a tremendous impression of dislocation and pain and wasted talent,” he said...--

  • chi res on December 02, 2011 3:54 PM:

    NOTE: Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. [emphasis added]


  • chi res on December 02, 2011 3:57 PM:

    We were above 8% two weeks after Obama took office. I suppose that was his fault though.

  • Anonymous on December 02, 2011 4:03 PM:

    Marginally attached doesn't include the 315,000. Discouraged workers are not counted in the U-6, they are counted in the U-4 and U-5. The participation rate dropped to 64% from 64.2%, this is where you find the 315,00 included. Educate yourself before you speak.


  • Creel on December 02, 2011 4:08 PM:

    Economist Christina Romer regrets saying jobless rate would stay below 8 percent
    By Lori Montgomery
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, August 7, 2010
    "As she prepares to step down as President Obama's chief economist, Christina Romer said Friday that she wishes she could redo one of her first official acts for the president: last January's forecast that a big shot of federal spending would save millions of jobs and keep the unemployment rate under 8 percent.

    The forecast was wrong. Many economists agree that Obama's stimulus package probably saved millions of jobs, but the recession was far worse than Romer predicted. Unemployment has soared and is stuck at 9.5 percent"

    But on the upside, she got a good gig like Pete!

  • chi res on December 02, 2011 4:12 PM:

    Wow. I can read. Can you?

    U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force

    As above:

    Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached

    Do you know the word "subset"?

  • square1 on December 02, 2011 4:17 PM:


    Assuming that you are correct, that the employment situation is less rosy than billed, one wonders what you think Obama's response should have been.

    Are you suggesting that Obama should have done more and, if so, what?

    Or do you subscribe to the prevailing but paradoxical wingnut logic that Obama is to blame for not creating more jobs even though "government can't create jobs"?

  • LB on December 02, 2011 4:21 PM:

    Discouraged workers!? Not at the $35,800 plate dinner I was at earlier this week in NYC!

  • Frank on December 02, 2011 4:34 PM:

    Hmmmm, job gains this month are not significantly different from last month but the % unemployment goes down - significantly. Please explain how this works mathematically if the 300k to 400k people who stopped looking for a job are to be ignored. I had hoped to see Benen at least acknowledge this fact but I guess since he could not explain it away without undercutting the "good news" theme of his article, he just chose to leave it out. People, please, exercise a little critical thinking before swallowing everything you read in a column. If you cannot be bothered to think, at least have the grace and humility to not attack those who do.

  • chi res on December 02, 2011 4:44 PM:

    I had hoped to see Benen at least acknowledge this fact

    Go here, Mr. Grace and Humility--


    Did someone open the stupid window?

  • Anonymous on December 02, 2011 4:50 PM:

    I would argue that the government can create conditions that make firms more likely to hire but that both sides of the political spectrum have created such a muddled climate that most businesses are hording cash and not hiring because they don't know what to expect from Washington.

    Our political system is broken and when Republicans want to fight the President over a tax cut you know things are out of whack. Republicans should embrace the payroll tax just like they would if GW had proposed it. Its the same story on the other side, everyone is looking for political advantage instead of what's best for the country.

  • Anonymous on December 02, 2011 4:59 PM:

    A worthy read to help explain the numbers for those who need the help.


  • Frank on December 03, 2011 7:35 AM:

    Correct, chi res has found what was missing from the Benen column (which was indeed my point) - a recounting of all the factors that could go into changes in the unemployment rate. Benen's column paints the unemployment rate drop as proof the economy is getting better (and, per the comments in this thread, people desperately want to believe this). However, neither politicians nor pundits should be taken at face value. Check other points of view (as chi res has done) and become informed on all sides before making up your mind.

  • 9corona on December 03, 2011 10:00 AM:

    The problem with the numbers reported by this administration is that they always seem to be revised..this applies to the majority of the numbers released - i.e. unemployment, budget, etc....

    (I don't remember the Bush or Clinton administration consistently revising the numbers; or maybe the data was not as as critical as they are today.)

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the economy is moving forward - but I am not holding my breathe.

  • Steve on December 03, 2011 11:00 AM:

    With articles like these, this writer continues to prove why the drive-by media in the lame stream or blogosphere are a sycophantic spin machine for the Obama Administration. 2 1/2 years into an economic recovery, especially after the magnitude of the downturn, 120,000 jobs added per month is anemic, and does not even keep pace with population growth and first time entrants into the job market! And, this week, layoffs are still running at a brisk clip, with 402,000 first time unemployment claims filed. This signals a still weak labor market. With labor participation rate dropping by .2%, or 315,000 people, the writer should look at the TRUE driver of the statistic, more people discouraged about the state of the labor market and have stopped looking all together. So, why is the Obama spin machine essentially crowing about ongoing misery for millions of Americans? And those lucky enough to find a job are taking huge pay cuts and huge reductions in their standards of living. Wages are NOT keeping up with core inflation. Many people are confined to part time positions, or temporary roles which makes the TRUE unemployment rate somewhere in the 17.5%-20% range. This “8.6” unemployment rate stat, when one looks under the hood, belies how weak the labor market really is. Look for a jump in January’s unemployment rate as seasonal holiday labor is back in the job market and more people, fooled by a drop in unemployment, begin to resume their job searches, which will cause a spike in the unemployment rate again. The majority of the 120k jobs added were retail, restaurant and bar workers, which tend to be part time, low paying jobs. Bottom line, while the direction of the labor market improved slightly, there is still way too much unemployment or underemployment misery for a blogger to spin this into anything positive. There are still many millions of people (at least 20 million) who either need a job or who are underemployed seeking full time work. And, with an economy growing at 1.2% to 2% per quarter, growth is not robust to absorb the huge slack in demand for labor, and after trillions of “stimulus” TARP and other inducements, one has to ask, is this the best that we can do?

  • chi res on December 03, 2011 1:24 PM:

    one has to ask, is this the best that we can do?

    Given record levels of republican obstructionism and anti-progressive propaganda... probably.

  • Vince on December 04, 2011 3:22 PM:

    I wonder why the author failed to mention the 315,000 which dropped out of the labor force, which REALLY caused the drop in the overall rate. He also failed to mention that 50,000 of the new jobs were retail, which always sees an increase this time of year. construction was only 2000 and manufacturing LOST jobs.

    I guess he feels his readers wouldn't know any better and he is free to NOT explain the whole picture.

    The net jobs created is actually WORSE that last month, yet the rate improved .... go figure ?

  • john waldin on December 05, 2011 8:38 AM:

    Once again you LIBs love to BS. You not surprisingly neglected to factor in the number of people who have simply given up looking for a job. If you had had the intellectual honesty to do that your 'pie-in the-sky' figures would have been very different. But then again you wouldn't have written the blog would you.

  • Debbie E. on December 05, 2011 9:46 AM:

    What they don't tell you in this article is how many thousands of people aren't included in this number - the people whose unemployment has run out and who have given up looking for a job. Our local news had the guts to broadcast this information - kudos to them.
    I'm tired of skewed reports that don't report the facts, only the numbers that make them look good or that are supposed to make us feel good, all while lying to us!