The Labor Department's latest job report showed that U.S. employers added 157,000 jobs in January. More importantly, it also found in its annual revision that employment gains over the past two years were much better than previously reported.
Those numbers showed employers added an average of about 180,000 jobs per month in 2011 and 2012, well above the 150,000 average previously reported. Even better, hiring averaged 200,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2012, while construction jobs -- a significant milestone of recovery from the depths of the Great Recession -- contributed 28,000 jobs in January, and nearly 100,000 over the past four months.
But don't look for any more job growth, or heartening economic diagnoses. Republicans are about to drop the hammer on the economy as they take the country over the long-dreaded "fiscal cliff" on Mar 1.
If they hold course, as they seem unflinchingly prepared to do, we can forget job growth and the revitalizing social benefits of increased consumer spending that flow from it: A self-reinforcing upward spiral of strengthening economic activity, increased tax revenue, and thus lower federal deficits; and the flip side of growth seen in declining expenditures for jobless benefits, foreclosed mortgages, lapsed health insurance and increased indigent-care costs, and declining numbers of people on food stamps and the homeless burden.
All these benefits are about to crash and go in reverse, because Republicans' smirking deficit hawks are out to show nation that they are bound and determined to attempt to cut federal deficits by reinstating recession and its revenue drag. Never mind that the Great Recession we're just now digging out of -- and its corresponding plunge in federal tax revenue from the norm of 18.5 percent of GDP to less than 16 percent of GDP -- mainly spurred the deficits of the past few years.
That lesson is lost on hidebound Republicans. They apparently won't bother to consider the economic wreckage of the last four years' misguided "austerity budgets" in Great Britain and a range of European countries. If they did, they would understand the deep economic costs and loss of jobs that they are about to impose by going over the fiscal cliff.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that up to 1.4 million jobs may be lost under the sequester-mandated budget cuts over the next two years. The Bipartisan Policy Center, an independent group, believes 1 million jobs will be lost this year alone under the burden of the budget sequesters that Republicans intend to impose in the next 20 days.
In just the next seven months, those budget sequesters will cause $55 billion in reduced defense spending on military contracts and $27 billion in discretionary spending in a wide range of federal nondefense departments. Except for Social Security, virtually every agency and department will be cut, no matter how important they are to airline security, federal law enforcement, border defense, agriculture, food inspection, and the public safety net. Much of the economic damage will result from canceled defense contracts and layoffs.
These sequesters, already deferred once, were never intended to take effect. They were put in place by Congress in the deficit ceiling-battle in the fall of 2011 as a hammer to drive a bipartisan initiative toward deep deficit reduction measures. The irony is that President Obama had already initiated $1.4 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, and has been attempting to negotiate deeper deficit reduction through a balanced mix of spending cuts and sensible revenue increases to avoid the unfair slashing of social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Republican leaders want to use the threat of indiscriminate across-the-board sequester cuts as a stick to force deeper safety-net cuts without bothering to close the corporate loopholes, hedge-fund rip-offs and off-shore tax-haven accounts that enrich their campaign paymasters. The question is whether they're now willing to kill economic and job growth for the mass of America's middle-class just to protect the privileged few.