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Jobs returning, slowly

David Brancaccio Feb 3, 2012

Here’s the line: “Honey, good news. I got the job.” Now repeat that 243,000 times.

That’s one way to appreciate the news of a surge in hiring last month. The government’s monthly unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the unemployment rate dropped from 8.5 to 8.3 percent in January. When surveyors checked, they found 243,000 new names added to payrolls, not even counting farm work.

One industry that did particularly well was manufacturing with nearly 50,000 new jobs there. We’re now a long way from the end of last summer when recession part two was the fear. But there’s still much work to do.

Randall Wray teaches economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He says that with 24 million Americans looking for a full-time job, if we keep at this current pace, it’ll take a decade to put them all back to work. “There just isn’t any recovery as bad as this one, in terms of job creation, even with jobs numbers like [today’s],” says Wray.

Some of the improvement in today’s report was because more people have just stopped looking for work. There are an estimated 5.5 million people living on the margins of our economy.

One odd feature about today’s report that countered recent trends (and watch for this when today’s figure is revised next month), after years of government job losses — at a rate of roughly 20,000 per month — it seems government jobs held steady.

Wray isn’t exactly sure why we had a month where government belt-tightening didn’t result in job loss. “It could be a blip. It could be that we’ll start losing them again, that is what I would expect,” he says. “Times are still tough on government budgets and they tend to lag behind the rest of the recovery anyway.”

Still, a better than expected unemployment report was good medicine for the markets, where the NASDAQ today hit an 11-year high.

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