Job growth slowed for a second straight month in April, adding to fears that the U.S. economy is stalling again after promising signs of an expansion earlier in the year. Employers created just 115,000 jobs in April, according to the Labor Department, far fewer than the monthly average of 252,000 added from December through February. The unemployment rate ticked down slightly, from 8.2 to 8.1 percent, the lowest rate since January 2009, but that was a result of more than 340,000 people leaving the labor force. The mediocre report dilutes President Obama’s message that the economy is on the mend. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seized on the numbers as evidence that the economy is “slowing down, not speeding up.”
However you slice it, it’s “not a pretty picture,” said the New York Post in an editorial. The strong jobs figures earlier in the year “now look like the result of the unseasonably warm weather rather than any economic recovery,” and the percentage of Americans in the labor force is now the “lowest in more than three decades.” It’s long past the point where the president can blame this desperate state of affairs on his predecessor.
Actually, this “perfect Rorschach test” of a report lets both Democrats and Republicans see whatever they want to see, said Zachary Karabell in TheDailyBeast.com. Those looking for a positive spin can point to the fact that the economy is still adding jobs; pessimists can cite stagnant wages and the “chronic problem of long-term unemployment.” In a sense, they’re both right, since these figures show the jobs picture “getting neither better nor worse.”
At least the economy is still growing, said Greg Ip in Economist.com. Earlier jobs numbers continue to be revised upward, and other data, like strong car sales, upticks in factory purchasing, and the stock-market climb, show “no signs of a sudden drop-off.” That isn’t enough to ensure Obama’s re-election. But it’s enough to suggest that a stall isn’t upon us.