The jobs data is so quirky that we’ll need another month or two of reports to know for sure what has been happening. For now, though, it looks like we—or some of us—got fooled. Things weren’t as good as they seemed six or seven months ago, and they weren’t as bad as they seemed a month or two ago. ...John Cassidy, New Yorker
Somewhere along the line, I picked up the notion that sudden changes in the overall economy are bad. You don't want boom and you don't want bust. Why? Because they go hand in hand. So when it seemed, at the beginning of 2012, that there were signs of growth in our economy, I was pretty happy. Even "things are better than they might seem" is good enough for me -- like Cassidy's numbers:
If you add together each payroll figure since November and divide by nine you will find that the average increase in payrolls over that period has been 160,000. That’s not great: previous recoveries have seen monthly increases of 250,000 or above. But it’s a decent figure, and it gives lie to the suggestion that the economy is no longer creating jobs. In the auto industry, hospitality, health care, and other industries, employers are still hiring. Construction and the government sector are depressed, but overall employment is growing. ...John Cassidy, New Yorker
I'm also well aware that when we're talking about "our economy" we're talking about the whole world. America doesn't have a separate economy. We don't eat that much wheat and corn. We don't use all those widgets and fighter planes. The downside of healthy trade is that when bad economic news comes in from Europe, it affect our wellbeing and our employment data. Someone needs to tell Fox that the results of Spain's profligacy or Germany's intransigence can't be blamed on the White House.
In the long run, Cassidy's "wait, we don't know yet!" advice makes a whole lot of sense. If you're someone who hopes everything is bad enough to boot Obama out of office, you might not want to read this.
According to the household survey, employment actually fell last month—by 195,000—and it was this fall that generated the tick-up in the unemployment rate. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the labor force declined, by 153,000, the jobless rate would have risen even further.
It is a mistake, however, to put too much emphasis on the household survey. The sample size is smaller, and the month-to-month numbers tend to jump around. if you average out the employment figures from the household survey over the past nine months, you get monthly growth of 214,000—considerably higher than the 160,000 figure from the payroll survey. ...John Cassidy, New Yorker
If you're dying to know how Obama's first term stacks up against Bush's first term, here are a couple of surprises. "Both presidents inherited a crisis they didn't create, and it's possible that both will go down in history failing to finish the term with even one net new job." And "Bush's term coincided with a surprising growth in total government employment..."
In the end... "We don't have an Obama problem or a Bush problem. We've just got a problem. And a government too feckless and divided to recognize or respond to it."
All that and more, too, comes from Derek Thompson at The Atlantic.