White House economist speaks on stable job numbers

Job applicants wait in line to meet potential employers at the 'Denver Hires Job Fair' on December 5, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.

Stacey Vanek Smith: The jobless rate in the U.S. held steady at 8.3 percent and the U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in February. It was also stronger than first thought in December and January.

Alan Krueger chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He joins us now from the White House. Good morning Mr. Kreuger.

Alan Krueger: Good morning.

Smith: So Mr. Krueger, do jobs numbers like this give you, and your boss, the president, a sense of relief?

Krueger: I think today we saw another solid jobs report. I don't know if "relief" is the right word in the sense that the unemployment rate is still 8.3 percent. I don't think the president will feel relieved until every American who wants a job can find one.

But I think it gives a sense of confidence that we're heading in the right direction; that the actions that the president has taken are leading us out of a deep hole that the economy was in when he took office.

Smith: One interesting note on the numbers that you mentioned was the unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent the economy did add jobs, and what that indicates is that there are people who are re-entering the work force. I'm wondering how much of a worry that is -- the idea that there are a lot of people on the sidelines and that maybe the unemployment rate doesn't reflect the number of people who actually want to work?

Krueger: I think the key thing to stay focused on is the number of jobs being created each month. And both the establishment survey and the household survey showed strong job growth in February. The labor force increased by almost half a million people in February -- that's a big increase.

Interestingly, it looks like the increase was largely a result of people remaining employed. Every month, people move from employment out of the labor force; they return to school; they retire. And last month it looks like the numbers were primarily affected by an increase in the number of people who remained employed from one month to the next.

Smith: And other than the employment numbers, what parts of the economy are you watching right now?

Krueger: Good question. We're looking at a lot of indicators. We're looking at exports -- but we're continuing to see exports expand, and we're on track to meet the president's goal of doubling exports over a five year period.

We're also closely monitoring the housing sector. Housing was ground zero for the financial and economic crisis. In the housing boom years, we overbuilt housing. Then since about 2007, there's been relatively little housing construction going on, and we're focusing closely on what's going on in residential real estate markets; construction more generally.

One of the reasons the president proposed additional investment in infrastructure is to put more construction workers back to work. That will help the economy today, and also help it in the future -- if we have improved railroads, or ports, or highways, that'll help productivity in the future.

Smith: Alan Krueger chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Alan, thank you so much.

Krueger: Thank you.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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