Ho-hum Jobs Report Wrapped in a Silver Lining
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By Josh Boak,
The Fiscal Times
February 1, 2013

Here’s the pesky thing about federal jobs reports: Much like Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France record and the answers given by Chuck Hagel at his Defense secretary confirmation hearings, they often get revised and corrected.

So take them with a grain of salt. Same goes for the quick-draw responses by political types.

The January employment figures released Friday morning exemplified this phenomenon. At first blush, the hiring tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics appeared to be a slight disappointment. The unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent, as payrolls increased by a less than expected 157,000.

Plenty of sectors dragged down that number from projections that it would be in the range of 180,000, eating into the solid gains made on the construction, health care, and retail side.

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Companies like UPS and Federal Express no longer needed workers for the holiday rush, as 18,500 courier and messenger jobs were shed last month. The number of office temps fell by 8,100. And there are 5,000 fewer federal bureaucrats, in addition to 4,700 fewer public school employees.

“This report is a stark reminder that everyone in Washington has more work to do,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement. “For years, President Obama has been predicting economic growth and lower unemployment while embracing policies that achieve negative results. More borrowing, government spending and higher taxes are not the answer to our economic challenges.”

The White House claimed the blame rested on the other side of Pennsylvania with Capitol Hill.

“Today’s report is a reminder of the importance of the need for Congress to act to avoid self-inflicted wounds to the economy,” Alan Krueger, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in a blog post. “The administration continues to urge Congress to move toward a sustainable Federal budget in a responsible way that balances revenue and spending, and replaces the sequester, while making critical investments in the economy that promote growth and job creation and protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

But this jobs report was wrapped with a silver lining. It dramatically revised upward the number of jobs created in November and December, in addition to updating how the reports were benchmarked for 2012.

And lo and behold, the economy churned out 335,000 more jobs than we thought last year. Washington still needs to address historically high unemployment, but Obama’s record on the matter looks much better now than it did 24 hours ago or during the presidential election.

The November and December revisions should calm anyone hyperventilating about a recession, after the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported this week that Gross Domestic Product shrank by 0.1 percent in the final three months of 2012. Hiring in November was revised upward from 161,000 to 247,000, while the December figures went from 155,000 to 196,000.

“The mystery of the Q4 GDP contraction deepens,” tweeted University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers. “BEA says the economy shrank; BLS says we were adding 203k jobs per month. Believe the latter.”