LAMBRO: The ugly, unvarnished Obama jobs record

Unemployment dropped lower because workers dropped out

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Liberal pundits are gushing over last week’s job report, hoping it will give President Obama and his fellow Democrats the political boost they need to avoid yet another devastating defeat in the midterm elections.

After nearly 5 years of a job-challenged, sluggish economy that all but stopped growing in the past three months, they’re hailing the Labor Department report as the long-awaited antidote to the Democrats’ deepening political troubles.

“If they aren’t exactly popping champagne corks over at the White House, at the very least there’s surely a sigh of relief, and a renewed hope” that Democrats might head into November with a better narrative about the economy,” writes blogger Paul Waldman at The Washington Post.

“For Democrats desperately in search of a way to change the national political environment in advance of the November election, the surprisingly strong April jobs report represents a ray of light,” cheers the newspaper’s election tracker, Chris Cillizza.

Then there’s this analysis from The Washington Post’s chief political reporter, Dan Balz: “Friday’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggested that the economy roared into a different gear last month, adding 288,888 jobs.”

The Obama economy “roaring”? Even a cursory review of the job numbers revealed that beneath the statistics, this report showed fewer people were working, not more. This is an economy struggling on many levels, one that Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen says is still stuck in a recovery and will likely remain so for the next year or more.

Mr. Balz’s analysis, which ran under the headline “Will the jobs report give Democrats a political boost?” said the number of jobs created last month was “the best single month of job growth since January 2012.”

“The unemployment rate plunged, from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent,” he said, adding that the jobless rate is “now 1.2 percent lower than it was a year ago and the lowest since September 2008 … .”

However, the number of jobs created last month came with a lot of caveats. It was nowhere near the 350,000-a-month full-time jobs the economy needs to bring unemployment down to normal levels anytime soon, economists say.

We are in the sixth year of one of the longest recovery periods ever — when the average length of all postwar recessions has been about two years. Don’t think the voters haven’t noticed this.

In the Reagan years, we came roaring out of the 1981-82 recession with monthly job numbers in the 350,000 to 400,000 job range and higher. In September 1983 alone, the economy produced more than 1 million jobs. The jobs the Obama economy’s been racking up are nowhere near those levels.

Certainly, the unemployment rate has fallen, but the number of new jobs created had absolutely nothing to do with that — as Mr. Balz acknowledges in the 10th paragraph of his story. The jobless rate fell only because more than 800,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force, he noted, and thus are no longer counted among the unemployed.

The Post seems to have trouble with this fact in some of the stories it has run since last Friday. “The jobless rate plunged [to] its lowest level since 2008 — though part of that was due to workers leaving the labor force,” the newspaper said in its business pages Sunday.

No, not “part of that,” all of that.

Former Obama administration economic adviser Jared Bernstein tells us that April’s “decline in unemployment is entirely due not to job creation, but to labor-force decline,” adding that “employment actually fell slightly” in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey.

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