Jobs Report Reax: Getting Better, Slowly

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 6 2012 @ 11:01am


Felix Salmon calls the jobs report "unmitigated good news":

Is this a fantastic report? No: as Betsey Stevenson says, an economy on fire could and would add 400,000 jobs a month, rather than 200,000. But no one’s kidding themselves that this economy is on fire. The main thing is that it’s growing, that things are moving in the right direction, and that we’re well above stall speed. If we stall, remember, there’s no safety net: the chances of any kind of fiscal stimulus in 2012 are exactly zero. So we’re on our own, here. And, happily, we seem to be doing OK.

Calculated Risk is more reserved:

This was a decent report compared to expectations, but it was still weak compared to the number of people unemployed and the high level of unemployment. There were 200,000 payroll jobs added in December. This included 212,000 private sector jobs added, and 12,000 government jobs lost. The unemployment rate fell to 8.5% from a revised 8.7% in November (revised from 8.6%). U-6, an alternate measure of labor underutilization that includes part time workers and marginally attached workers, declined to 15.2% – this remains very high. U-6 was in the 8% range in 2007.

Karl Smith digs into the internals. Ezra Klein:

[T]here’s work to be done. And we have the tools with which to do it. As I wrote inWonkbook this morning, an expanded payroll tax cut, a major effort to encourage refinancing in the housing market, infrastructure investment, and much more could be leveraged to accelerate the recovery. If we are adding jobs more slowly than we need to be, that is, in large part, the fault of Republicans and some Democrats in Congress who refuse to sign onto tried-and-tested methods of creating jobs in recovering economies.


One key issue going forward is whether the state and local layoffs will cease. This 200,000 number is good by the standards of post-2007 America, but hardly a torrid boom. If instead of subtracting 12,000 government workers from the 212,000 private ones we'd added a few thousand to keep up with population growth, then the headline number would look a lot better. 


Politically, this obviously is going to make the Obama White House, and the re-election team in Chicago, smile just a little bit. Today’s numbers are first of ten employment reports we will see before the November 8th election (the October report will come out the Friday after the election). A consistent stretch of good news will quite obviously inuure to the President’s benefit, through Republicans will try to spin it another way. This is why it’s far too early for anyone to count the President out of this. 


Mitt Romney has made the state of the economy his central theme against Obama. The entire premise of his campaign is that the economy is bad because Obama's economic program has failed. If voters think the economy is improving, Romney has no ammunition left. That is still the smart play for Romney, because if the economy feels strong, he probably can't win anyway, so he needs to plan for the scenario that gives him a chance to win. A few months ago, that scenario was looking almost certain. Now it's looking far less likely.

Jared Bernstein:

Securing, sustaining, and building on these gains, particularly in the face of economic risk factors–Europe, oil, fading stimulus–must become the top goal of policy makers who have heretofore been way too cavalier about this primary responsibility.

(Chart from Calculated Risk)