Jobs Report: Mixed Message

Photograph by George Frey/Bloomberg

Employees assemble variety packs of cookies at the Pepperidge Farm Inc. manufacturing facility in Richmond, Utah, on Nov. 18, 2013.

Updated at 9:20 and 10:05 am EST

The jobless rate in the U.S. has fallen by more than one percentage point since President Barack Obama’s reelection.

The rate stood at 6.7 percent in December, at the end of the first year of the president’s second term, the Labor Department reported today.

It was 7.8 percent as he stood for reelection in November 2012.

The White House was sure to say today that there is still work to be done. Indeed, only 74,000 jobs were added in December, the slowest pace since January 2011, and the jobless rate has fallen as people stopped looking for work.

And that’s what Jason Furman, chairman  of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement issued this morning:

“As our economy continues to make progress, there’s a lot more work to do.”

“Though December’s job growth was less than expected, we continue to focus on the longer-term trend in the economy : 2.2 million private sector jobs added and a 1.2 percentage point decline in the unemployment rate over the course of 2013,” Furman said. “Today’s numbers are also a reminder of the work that remains, especially on one of our nation’s most immediate and pressing challenges: long-term unemployment.”

The White House also was ready to connect the report with the ongoing debate about extending unemployment insurance for 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans whose aid has expired.

`Despite an abundance of evidence indicating that this challenge is far from solved, Congress allowed extended unemployment insurance to lapse at the end of 2013, cutting off a critical lifeline to those who lost a job through no fault of their own and are still searching for work,” Furman said.

House Speaker John Boehner was ready with the glass half-empty take:

“Every American has a right to ask the question ‘Where are the jobs?’” the Ohio Republican said in a statement released by his office: “Today’s disappointing report shows, once again, that the president’s policies are failing too many Americans, many of whom have simply stopped looking for work. There are more families living in poverty today than there were before the president took office, and instead of making it easier to find a good-paying job, Washington has been more focused on making it less difficult to live without one. The top priority of middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and the top priority of the people’s House, is creating new jobs.”

Yet Obama already has defied the odds against political success in the midst of pervasive unemployment.

Only Ronald Reagan had been re-elected with unemployment above 7 percent — 7.2 percent at his reelection in November 1984 — since monthly reports started in 1948.

Before that, when reports were issued annually, the only one re-elected with worse rates was Franklin Delano Roosevelt — 16.9 percent in 1936, 14.6 percent in 1940.

In the depth of the worst recession since the Great Depression, unemployment peaked at 10 percent in October 2009.

Obama closed the first year of his second term with joblessness at 7 percent.

In the work still needed department, many are noting this morning that the rate has fallen to 6.7 percent in part because many people have stopped looking for work in a persistently difficult economy.


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