Alan Krueger on the January jobs numbers

Adriene Hill Feb 3, 2012

Adriene Hill: The labor department’s monthly job number are good — better than almost anyone expected. Manufacturing added jobs, construction and retail too.

For more, we go to Alan Krueger at the White House. He’s the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. Good morning, Alan.

Alan Krueger: Good morning.

Hill: So what strikes you about these numbers?

Krueger: I say every month that you need to look at the jobs report in the context of other information that’s coming in, and I think we see a picture of a job market that is healing, that’s recovering from the trauma that was inflicted by the recession that began back at the end of 2007. And it’s extremely important that we take the steps to keep up this momentum, such as by extending the 2 percentage point payroll tax reduction, as well as extending unemployment benefits for the rest of 2012.

Hill: Now what were you surprised by in today’s report?

Krueger: Well I think what the report indicates is that the job growth was pretty broad-based; it was spread over a number of industries. And this recovery has been unique because of the nature of the crisis in the first place. Most recoveries are fueled by very strong growth in homebuilding — residential construction — but because we overbuilt so many houses earlier in the 2000s, construction has been very weak. We did see growth in construction jobs, we saw 50,000 manufacturing jobs, so we’re seeing that the steps that were taken to continue the recovery to dig our way out of this deep hole have been working, and I think that’s encouraging.

Hill: As you just mentioned, jobs were added in manufacturing, construction, some retail jobs. But are these the kind of jobs that we want for the economy that we want?

Krueger: Well the president emphasized in his State of the Union a blueprint for building an America that’s stronger for an economy that’s built to last. And that is based on a stronger manufacturing sector, American energy, increasing the skills of the workforce, as well as a return to American values of fairness. And last month, we saw 50,000 new manufacturing jobs added. The president has a strategy for strengthening manufacturing. Manufacturing tends to provide employment for, particularly good jobs for less-skilled workers, helping them to get into the middle class.

Hill: An 8.3 percent unemployment rate is better than we’ve seen in a while, but there are a lot of people out there who just aren’t looking for work anymore, and aren’t counted. What do you say to them?

Krueger: I think what’s particularly important is that we keep up the momentum, creating more jobs that will strengthen the economy. We need also to increase the skills of the American workforce. And I think the key variable here is job growth; the drop in the unemployment rate last month was entirely resolved by faster job growth, not from a drop in people participating in the labor force. We just need to keep up that momentum of quicker job growth to provide more opportunities for American workers.

Hill: Alan Krueger is the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Thanks.

Krueger: Thank you very much.

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