Feature

Is the jobs outlook improving?

Private-sector employment has climbed by an average of 250,000 jobs a month for three months running, but the economy is still struggling and unemployment remains high.

What happenedThe U.S. economy added 244,000 jobs in April, its third straight month of solid gains and the biggest net monthly jobs boost since 2006. The private sector led the charge, surprising Wall Street and vindicating optimists who had claimed that the tepid growth of the first quarter was behind us. “This isn’t a flash in the pan,” said Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House. For three months running, private-sector employment has climbed by an average of 250,000 jobs a month.

“We’re not out of the woods,” said Heather Boushey, head economist for the Center for American Progress. April’s sunny jobs report was marred by an uptick in the unemployment rate from 8.8 to 9 percent. That is due largely to the loss of 24,000 federal, state, and local government jobs last month, part of a year-long decline of 400,000 public-sector jobs. For this struggling economy, it looks like “two steps forward, one step back,” said economist Stephen Stanley at Pierpoint Securities.

What the editorials said“The jobless expansion continues,” said Investor’s Business Daily. We’re not impressed with April’s numbers, since a quarter of those new jobs came from McDonalds. Nothing against Mickey D, which added 62,000 jobs in April, but “economic growth can’t be sustained with burger flippers.” And the truth is, the big jobs picture is not improving. Add in those who’ve given up looking and part-timers searching for full-time work, and the actual unemployment rate shoots up to 15.9 percent. When the economy bogs down for this long, it’s “almost always due to bad policies.” More like the lack of any policy, said The New York Times. Congress and the White House are so preoccupied with budgets and deficits that they’re ignoring jobs creation. That has resulted in “deep pockets of distress” in the country: 22 percent unemployment for high school grads under 25, and 16.1 percent for black workers. Where are the jobs? It’s time this administration started “looking for answers.”

They might start with the rising price of gasoline, the most recent roadblock to recovery, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There is no economic justification for the spike in oil we’ve seen since the uprising in Libya, which accounts for just 2 percent of the world’s oil. If prices at the pump remain high this summer, Congress should strip away Big Oil’s subsidies and tax excessive profits. We can’t let price gougers get away with “hobbling the economy.”

What the columnists saidThe good news was “what didn’t happen” in April, said Neil Irwin in The Washington Post. Even struggling with higher prices for gasoline, food, and raw materials, employers refused to circle the wagons. Instead they created thousands of new jobs, “confident that consumers will still go shopping.” Yes, jobs are being created, said Andy Kroll in Mother Jones. But too many of them are low-wage, dead-end jobs that won’t support a family. In “the present lopsided recovery,” decent-paying jobs like the ones that allowed America’s middle class to expand in the 20th century are “going the way of typewriters and landline telephones.”

The April numbers are not a “signal of green shoots, but of the perils of premature belt-tightening,” said Robert Kuttner in HuffingtonPost.com. With the U.S. workforce still a million people smaller than it was a year ago, “government should be adding jobs,” not cutting them. Instead, austerity fever is sweeping both parties, pushing the idea of promoting public jobs “off the table.”

This report shows “we have a long, long way to go,” said Ezra Klein in The Washington Post, but Congress keeps “following the wrong map.” The minority parties in the House and Senate did release competing jobs agendas last week. House Democrats want more short-term worker support, and Senate Republicans seek long-term structural reform­—goals that could be addressed in a compromise bill. But nothing will happen until the real powers in Washington—the Republican House, the Democratic Senate, and the White House—get serious about promoting job growth.

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