A rise in jobs and in unemployment

Fears that the economy might be slowing to a halt eased as the Labor Department issued a better-than-expected jobs report.

What happened

Fears that the economy might be slowing to a halt eased as the Labor Department reported that a better-than-expected 163,000 jobs were created in July. But the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from the previous month’s 8.2 percent as more people sought work, and the report offered no evidence that a more vigorous recovery was in the offing. The economy has added an average of 151,000 jobs every month this year, nearly identical to last year’s rate of 153,000 jobs per month. While that is more than enough to keep up with population growth, job creation is still too weak to reduce the unemployment rate, which has now been over 8 percent for a record 41 months. President Obama blamed the slow recovery on the severity of the recession, but said the improving job numbers were proof that “we’ll gradually get to where we need to be.”

Republicans pointed to the rise in unemployment as evidence that Obama’s policies were hampering economic recovery. Presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney called the report a “hammer blow” to middle-class families, and said he would create 12 million new jobs in his first term. “Middle-class Americans deserve better, and I believe Americans can do better,” he said.

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What the editorials said

This was a “Goldilocks-and-porridge kind of report,” said the Chicago Tribune. “Not too hot, not too cold, though not exactly just right.” Worried businesses are evidently reluctant to hire more workers with the “fiscal cliff” looming at the end of December, when federal tax increases could collide with $100 billion in forced spending cuts. You can thank President Obama for that, said The Wall Street Journal. His threat to let all the Bush tax cuts expire on Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t raise taxes on “the rich” has left businesses “stuck in a defensive crouch.”

Actually, congressional Republicans are to blame for the stagnant economy, said The New York Times. When consumer demand is low, the government must step in. The president proposed a jobs bill last year, but the House GOP blocked its passage, just as it is blocking the sensible tax reform required to avert the fiscal cliff. The real reason “we’re stuck” is that we need more federal spending on education, infrastructure, and clean energy.

What the columnists said

“It pays to take a longer view” of numbers like these, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. Then you can see that the roller-coaster job reports of the past nine months were “something of an illusion.” When businesses didn’t fire as many people as expected during the unseasonably warm winter, economists misread the job gains as a sign that the economy was returning to normal; then they misinterpreted the slower rate of hiring in the spring as a slowdown. But the average monthly increase in payrolls since November is 160,000 jobs—all in all, “a decent figure.”

But that’s not nearly enough, said Noam Scheiber in TNR.com.Remember, we need 100,000 just to keep up with population growth—and closer to 250,000 a month for the next four years to push unemployment back down to 5 or 6 percent. At this rate we won’t return to prerecession job growth until “well into the next decade.” Americans shouldn’t have to wait that long, said Irwin Stelzer in WeeklyStandard.com. Our anemic economy is a direct result of Obama’s higher taxes, increased regulation, and wasteful stimulus spending. “It should be clear that it is time for a change.”

That sentiment is the entire foundation of Mitt Romney’s campaign, said Jonathan Bernstein in WashingtonPost.com. But history indicates that voters are more concerned with “whether the economy is improving, not how strong it is overall.” And the worse the economy is during a president’s first year in office, the better voters perceive his efforts to turn things around, which is good news for Obama. That’s why Romney had better give up thinking he’ll win on the economy alone, said Darrell Delamaide in MarketWatch.com.Voters need convincing that he has the policies and strength of character to make a better president than Obama. “He has three more months to do that.”

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