U.S. creates 157,000 jobs in January

A pedestrian walks by a 'now hiring' sign that is posted in the window of a Chase bank branch in San Rafael, California.

What if you could go back in time and make the jobs picture just a little less bleak? Well, the Labor Department managed to do just that.

In its employment report for January, the Labor Department said 157,000 new jobs were created last month. Government number crunchers also said the unemployment rate edged up to 7.9 percent. But the report didn't stop there.  It also included major revisions for the months of November and December. And those new numbers showed that we added a lot more jobs near the end of last year than we had intially thought.

"Each month, I try to take a step back as the numbers come in," said Alan Krueger, chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. "And this month the Bureau of Labor Statistcs incorporated fairly large revisions. So that shows you how the numbers can move around."

On the whole though, Krueger says he sees of pattern of healing in the job market.

Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial, saw signs of growth as well, especially when you look at the jobs growth in the retail  sector. In the final three months of last year, retailers added 133,000 jobs.

"To put that in perspective," Low said, "you have to go all the way back to 1994's Christmas season to find that kind of hiring. Retailers were a lot more confident than we thought. Now the question is, of course, can they keep that trend going looking forward?"

The Obama administration said the report showed why Washington must act to avoid some of the harsh budget cuts that are pegged to occur at the beginning of March.

"That's one reason why I think it's so important that Washington doesn't get in the way of the economy and dosn't impose additional problems like the sequester or the scheduled spending cuts," said Krueger. "We saw a sign of what kind of impact the sequester can have in the GDP numbers that were released a couple of days ago."

GDP, the broad measure of the country's economic output, dropped 0.1 percent in the last quarter. 

"Consumers were in better shape last year than they have been since the recession, which is good news. And, of course, it turns out more of them were working than we thought," economist Chris Low said. "But it also means that that big tax increase on January 1, which presumably will hurt consumer spending, is maybe a big hurdle to job creation moving forward."

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.

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