Jobs and growth taking off

Jobs and growth taking off

March 10th, 2012 in Opinion Times

A Labor Department report on Friday affirmed that employers added increasingly larger numbers of new jobs in February, maintaining important upward trends in broad job growth and reflecting an economy that is strengthening despite significant headwinds abroad.

The report showed 227,000 net new jobs in February across broad sectors of the economy. That number follows the 284,000 net new jobs in January and 223,000 jobs in December. That brawny total of 734,000 net new jobs in the past three months continues a string of more than six consecutive months of job growth at monthly net levels above 200,000. Overall, the economy has added more than 3.9 million new private sector payroll jobs over 24 straight months of job growth. That's more than three-and-a-half times the number of total net jobs added in the entire eight years of George W. Bush's tenure.

These are good numbers, and good trends. The last three months' figures are more remarkable because they are the best three-month job growth figures since the Great Recession began in December 2007.

The nation's unemployment level remained at 8.3 percent. Though the February jobless rate marked the first time in six months that there was no decline in the jobless rate, it reflected positive offsetting factors. One was an increase of 476,000 in the size of the labor force last month as discouraged workers began looking again for a job. Another was a welcome reduction in the number of workers exiting their jobs in January and February.

Though job growth remains below the rate needed to rapidly reduce unemployment to the more ideal 4 percent level, it is surprisingly strong given the repeated shocks that have jolted national and global growth. BP's huge oil spill off the Gulf Coast, for example, was followed by the tsunami and nuclear disaster that for months interrupted Japan's vital technology-supplier exports for manufacturing globally. More recently, Europe's deepening sovereign debt crisis in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy has slowly re-ignited recession in the broader euro zone, hampering American exports.

Still, the American manufacturing sector has surged, even as China's and India's job-suctioning prowess has expanded its competitive critical mass. Manufacturing growth isn't the only measure that counts. The Labor Department's separate survey of households, done apart from the regular employment data, suggests the economy is growing faster that the latter suggests.

The household survey, the Washington Post reported Friday, found that 428,000 more Americans had jobs than the month before, and the number of employed people rose by 1.45 million in the previous three months. That would be the largest three-month gain in employment since March 2000.

Regardless of party, the political ramifications of the new job numbers are significant. If job growth continues near the current pace, it almost certainly will lift President Obama's re-election prospects, and hurt the Republican nominee. And vice-versa. If jobs swell at a 200,000 a month pace, the jobless rate will drop under the 8 percent rate Obama promised. If it doesn't, Republicans will claim he's failed -- never mind their repeated efforts to cripple his economic initiatives, or the utter depth of the Great Recession.

Indeed, Americans have to wonder if Republicans are now saber-rattling about Iran, a significant oil exporter, to deliberately drive up the price of oil and gas in order to suppress American's consumer spending and sour the economy. Such manipulation is possible. If voters measure economic strategy fairly, however, they will see that Obama's policies are working.