If a nation could hope for a Christmas-season present, one item on the list surely would be a lower rate of unemployment. Going into December, November's report on joblessness offers hope of an such an uptick. Approximately 120,000 jobs were added to the economy last month, bringing the unemployment rate down to 8.6 percent, the lowest point since March 2009.
Given the dim projections since August for a possible double-dip recession in the wake of the euro zone's continuing troubles and China's swoon, the report is indeed good news. It suggests, as figures for several months have confirmed, that the nation's economy is stronger, more stable and more resilient than many skeptics have assumed. October saw 100,000 jobs added to payrolls, for example, and September's gains were higher than initially stated.
The recent gains do not mean, to be sure, that the United States will soon again enjoy the sort of growth rate, in excess of 4 percent, that is needed to work down the backlog of 13 million unemployed. The hard truth of that daunting figure is that the Great Recession that flowed from the 2008 financial implosion destroyed millions of jobs and thousands of businesses that simply will not be restored in their old form. It will take years of new economic growth, above the population growth rate, to soak up the unemployed and underemployed millions.
Yet under the current circumstances, the drop below the 9 percent jobless figure of unemployed is more than just a good omen. It reflects economic strength and consumer confidence that is certainly at a higher level than the political debate in Washington over the economy, and other recent events, would suggest.
The economy, for example, has overcome the oil-price shocks spawned by the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf. It has coped with the heavy ripples from the tsunami this year that battered Japan and staggered its manufacturing base and the world-wide industries that relied on it for critical parts. And it has adjusted to the setbacks in the energy sector that arose from Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear plants.
The economy has also managed to weather Europe's sovereign debt crisis, which threatens not just Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, but the stability of the euro itself and the European market's demand for U.S.-made goods and investments.
Lastly, it seems to be coping well with the Republicans' obvious attempts to sabotage the nation's economic recovery in order to defeat President Obama's re-election bid. Their manufactured debt-ceiling crisis and refusal to approve any stimulus measures, even ones to employers that they have always endorsed, have rattled and slowed, but not throttled, the economy.
Evidence of that is found in several measures. Companies have been hiring more temporary workers at faster rates, suggesting the pending need to hire more permanent employees. Help-wanted advertising is up and jobless claims are down. Businesses are seeking more loans and getting them more easily, and surveys show they expect to increase hiring.
The economy still has a bumpy road. Average hourly earnings are down slightly, and 6.5 million part-time workers want full-time jobs. But the economy's direction and base strength, reflected in rising new cars sales and seasonal shopping, continues moving forward. With a deal in Europe to stabilize the euro and fairer treatment in Washington -- i.e., renewal for another year of President Obama's payroll tax-cut and extension of long-term unemployment benefits -- growth in the economy, and new hiring, could accelerate.