An exuberant, yet tempered, cheer was most likely heard emanating from the Oval Office today as the latest jobs report was released confirming a significant drop in unemployment to 8.6%, its lowest point since March 2009. The short-lived excitement gave way, though, as realization of the 13.3 million still unemployed Americans set in and as the critic-spun negatives began overshadowing the initial positives.
Criticisms emerged from across the media spectrum and, predictably, from the campaign trail almost as soon as the report was released. Mitt Romney stepped forward first this morning insinuating President Obama has been complacent when the unemployed are concerned and today’s report “only highlight[ed] the urgent need for a fundamental change in the direction of our country.” Various media sources told the White House not to “pop the champagne cork” just yet as the drop in unemployment also involved a large reduction the workforce. Those people who voluntarily or involuntarily removed themselves from the total who are actively seeking employment increased by 300, 000 from last month. Others in the media pointed out the re-election threat this persistently high unemployment poses for the President indicating historically, ”Obama [may] face voters next fall with the highest unemployment of any sitting president seeking re-election since World War II.” Gerald Ford entered his unsuccessful campaign in 1976 facing a 7.8% unemployment rate. By midday, there had been plenty of darts thrown to pop any number of optimistic balloons the administration attempted to fly.
Is there any chance we can just enjoy this?
Throughout the day’s media race to see who could deflate the most amount of optimism as possible there was little chance to enjoy this long awaited positive news. Many assessments focused their attention solely on change over the previous two months while they lacked insight into where we were and how far we have come since the same period last year.
November 2010’s job report was a dismal one with figures far under economists’ predictions. Employers only added 39,000 jobs, 111,000 fewer than expected. The unemployment rate increased to 9.8% from the 9.6% it had been stuck at since August. Discouraged workers’ numbers rose to 1.3 million while the total number of unemployed sat at 15.1 million.
Fast forward to November 2011. The economy added 120,000 new jobs, 10,000 more than economists forecasted. Small businesseswere the drivers of the gains as they shed some of this past summer’s uncertainty. While the public sector continued to shed jobs due to spending cuts at state and local levels, the private sector forged ahead through its 21st month of job growth. With the arrival of more accurate data, the government revised its figures reflecting increased growth over the previous 4 months with a combined addition of 72,000 jobs for September and October alone. While the workforce did contract by approximately 300,000 workers, less than half of those were discouraged workers which reflected an increase of 129,000 from October. This indicated a decrease of 186,000 from last November. An additional bright spot in the economy was the increase of self-employed and household businesses which created on average 320,000 jobs each month for the past 4 months. And since this time last year, the economy has added 1.87 million payroll jobs.
While unemployment has proven itself to be a source of immense strain for many from those languishing in what seems to be perpetual joblessness to those in public office attempting to pull the country out of an immense hole, today’s report does offer a significant glimmer of hope. A long awaited sign of positive news. Perhaps the responsible approach is indeed to temper our exuberance in favor of a more detached assessment. However, given the depth and breadth of the recession and its interminably slow recovery is it not warranted to allow ourselves a moment of reprieve, a moment for reflection in which to ponder the brightening light as we approach the end of the tunnel? Amidst the conflict, the posturing, the persistent somber outlook maybe it’s time for optimism to share the spotlight for a while.