Employers finally appear to be showing some confidence in the economic recovery, with new Labor Department statistics showing this week that layoffs are coming to an end, while some hiring has begun. Employers shed just 36,000 jobs in February—fewer than the 50,000–75,000 that were expected—while 193,000 new jobs were created, according to the Labor Department’s monthly report. The Obama administration was careful to say that unemployment remains a major problem, but noted that there’s been much progress since last February, when 726,000 jobs were lost. “We still have work to do,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, but “the economy is moving in the right direction.”
Employers, though, remained cautious, waiting for proof of sustained increases in demand before adding substantial numbers of new workers. Economists say that if current trends continue, it could be at least four years before the 8.4 million jobs wiped out by the recession are restored, and even longer before the unemployment rate drops to its normal 5 percent. “There is still a very large pool of unemployed people out there,” said economist Anna Piretti of BNP Paribas, “and it’s going to take years before they are reabsorbed into the workforce.”
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What the editorials said
It’s obviously way too soon to celebrate, said The New York Times. To fill the recession’s deep hole, jobs would have to be created at the pace of 400,000 a month for three years, which is “wildly in excess of even the most optimistic projections.” And despite Congress and the Obama administration’s insistence that “their top three priorities are jobs, jobs, and jobs,” far from enough federal money is being pumped into the economy to make much of a dent.
“The picture is even worse than it appears,” said Investor’s Business Daily. The real number is 51,000 jobs lost, because the government counts 15,000 temporary census positions as “new jobs.” Yet, with “businesses struggling and fearful about the future,” we’re hearing the same old demands for “more reckless spending and taxing.” Washington’s “utter cluelessness” about the economy never ceases to amaze.
What the columnists said
Give the Obama administration credit, said John Crudele in the New York Post. It certainly did a fine job in lowering expectations. A special tip of the hat goes to White House economic advisor Larry Summers, who “ingeniously conditioned people to anticipate worse” by suggesting that February’s blizzards across the Northeast might send the unemployment number skyrocketing. So the loss of 36,000 jobs somehow became “great news, at least as far as the politicians and Wall Street were concerned.”
Unfortunately, the news “may get worse before it gets better,” said John Schoen in MSNBC.com. The unemployment rate is based on the number of people who are looking for work and not finding it, and an estimated 2 million discouraged people have stopped looking. But with the economy seeming to rebound, those people may become job hunters again, though the economy is not ready to absorb them. That would cause a spike in the unemployment rate and create more political problems for President Obama and the Democrats.
Well, that’s exactly what they deserve, said Bob Herbert in The New York Times. For far too long now, Americans have been gripped by “deep economic anxiety,” fearful of losing their jobs—if they have one—their homes, and their futures. Yet instead of focusing like a laser on jobs, Obama and his congressional allies have spent “astonishing amounts of time and energy, and most of their political capital, on an obsessive quest to pass a health-care bill.” The sputtering economy has complicated health-care reform, said Robert Reich in The Christian Science Monitor, but it shouldn’t. It takes some explaining, but people should realize that a growing portion of their paychecks is “being eaten up by rising health-care costs,” and without reform, that will only get worse. Americans need jobs and health-care reform. “It’s still possible to do two important things at the same time. The big question is whether the president can make the case.”
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