Happy new year! The Labor Department announced on Friday that the economy gained an "incredible" 243,000 jobs in the first month of 2012, shocking many analysts who expected modest gains of about 150,000 jobs. The unexpected January hiring spree pushed the unemployment rate down from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. Not since the first days of the Obama presidency has the jobless rate been this low. (The unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in January 2009, 8.3 percent in February 2009, and then spent nearly three years bouncing between 8.5 and 10 percent.) The January job gains were broad — benefiting manufacturing, professional services, retail, health care, and restaurants, among other industries. Is this "monster" jobs report undeniable proof that the economy is, as the White House puts it, "continuing to heal"?

This is clearly great news: "The strangest thing about January's jobs report," says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, "is that it's pretty much all good." December's numbers were strong largely thanks to seasonal hiring. But last month, the gains were across the board, and those jobs are here to stay. Plus, revised stats from November and December pushed the number of new jobs even higher, to 303,000. "Nicely done, economy."
"The January jobs report: It's all good"

Actually, we're still stuck in the mud: The figures are improving, but they're "still not good enough," FTN Financial economist Lindsey Piegza tells the Financial Post. The only reason the unemployment rate went down is that "more and more people are dropping out of the labor force." Remember, we need to add a minimum of 250,000 jobs each month just to keep up with population growth, so we're really just coming close to breaking even. We haven't even begun to "reabsorb the nine million people who lost their jobs during the Great Recession."
"U.S. jobs data: What the analysts say"

Regardless, this is a boon for Obama: "This was an unequivocally strong jobs report," says Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner. "And we've now had two consecutive months of 200,000+ jobs created." If Obama can convince voters things are improving, it will be "a lot harder for Republicans to run against him." After all, "saying that the economy isn't recovering as fast as it should be is a much weaker argument" than attacking "an incumbent when people feel there's simply no light at the end of the tunnel."
"Solid jobs report a boost to Obama"