Job Growth: Good News, Finally — Or Is It?

Updated with president at 12:12 pm EDT

For the first time in a very long time, the Obama White House has something good to talk about.

Instead of a tiring refrain about American employment growing each of the past 45 months or so — the election-season talking point that masked the incremental gains being made since the worst recession in modern-times — the word from the Labor Department today is:

288,000 new jobs, the biggest gain since January 2012, with the rate of unemployment falling by almost a half percentage point — from 6.7 percent in March to 6.3 percent in April — on a broad-based gain led by construction company hiring. The vast majority of these new jobs, 273,000, are in the private sector.

And this was, after all — as the White House noted today — “the 50th consecutive month” of job growth.

Yet the White House isn’t opening the South Lawn for dancing.

“The employment data can fluctuate from month-to-month,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement issued this morning, “and while this month’s report happens to be above expectations, it is still broadly consistent with the recent trends we have been seeing in the labor market.”

President Barack Obama, appearing in the Rose Garden today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “We have to keep a relentless focus on job creation.” He called on Congress to raise the minimum wage.

House Speaker John Boehner — the Ohio Republican who keeps asking the White House, “Where are the jobs?” — maintains the White House still is missing opportunities for improvement. The first-quarter report on economic growth — a creeping .1 percent gain in GDP hampered by a nagging foreign trade deficit — was hardly as rosy as today’s jobs report, the speaker says.

“Earlier this week, we learned that economic growth largely stalled at the start of the year,” Boehner said in a statement from his office. “And while it’s welcome news that more of our friends and neighbors found work in the past month, this report also indicates more than 800,000 Americans left the workforce last month, which is troubling. We need more robust economic growth if we’re going to help the millions who remain unemployed get back on their feet.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for one, likes the “good news” in today’s numbers.

“Today’s report is good news,” the Nevada Democrat said in a statement issued by his office. “And while it suggests that economic recovery is beginning, there is much work to be done to continue creating jobs and strengthening the middle class.

“The first thing we should do to grow our economy is raise the minimum wage,” said Reid, carrying a torch that the White House also is promoting. The Senate failed to corral the votes for that this week, and House leaders have no intention of doing so.

There still is work to be done, the White House’s Furman says:

“The president continues to emphasize that more can and should be done to support the recovery, including acting on his own executive authority to expand economic opportunity, as well as pushing Congress for additional investments in infrastructure, education and research, an increase in the minimum wage, and a reinstatement of extended unemployment insurance benefits.”

The economy actually has lost 80,000 jobs this year, Furman said, attributing that to congressional failure to extend the long-term unemployment benefits that lapsed in January. And this will “cost another 160,000 jobs over the balance of the year.”

“These facts suggest that steps that have been proposed to support the long-term unemployed — including reinstating extended unemployment insurance — still have a critical role to play in helping to address this pressing issue,” he said.

Nevertheless:, that “50 straight months of job growth” has added 9.2 million private sector jobs, Furman noted. And that’s pretty good news for a Friday morning in early May.

 

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