Holding Steady

Estimates for December job growth converged at around 150,000 net jobs, and according to today’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy created almost exactly that: 155,000 new jobs, with a steady unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. The revisions show an economy that’s a little stronger than it looks; October was revised to 138,000 jobs from 137,000, and November was revised from 146,000 to 161,000.

Three years after the stimulus was passed, and just a few months after the latest round of quantative easing, what we have is an economy that turns in steady, but unremarkable, growth. At the current rate, our unemployment rate will slowly decline to 6 percent by the end of President Obama’s term. This isn't a full recovery—unemployment would have to be at the five percent range for that—it would still make Obama a major job creator by historical standards. Current projections hold that the economy will grow by 12 million jobs by the end of 2016. Add to that the nearly 5 million jobs created during Obama's first term, and by the end of his tenure, he would have presided over total job growth of nearly 17 million, and net job growth of close to 13 million.

If your concern is anything else but joblessness, then this is probably good enough. For those of us who want the recovery to help those who need it most, it’s disappointing. In a fast growing economy, there are jobs for almost anyone wants them—including the long-term unemployed, who may have seen their skills deteriorate. In our current, sluggish economy, there are just enough jobs for new entrants to the job market and some of the short-term unemployed. For the millions who have been out of work for six months—or longer—there’s not much in the way of good news.

Which makes the current discussion in Washington nothing less than insane. The only thing Congress should be worried about is finding ways to turn out mediocre growth into good growth, and then our good growth into excellent growth. Deficit reduction is a conversation to have after unemployment has fallen to a low rate, not before. As it stands, the most likely outcome of our debt fixation is a slower recovery, greater joblessness, and worse outcomes for workers, present and future.