Five years after the nation emerged from a crippling recession, the economy finally appears to be on track for a more robust recovery, bolstered by strong recent job gains and an unemployment rate that dipped below 6 percent in September for the first time since the summer of 2008.
But the surprisingly rosy jobs report released by the government on Friday appeared to be too little, too late to bolster the prospects of Democratic candidates facing voters in struggling campaigns for next month’s midterm elections in the face of rising disenchantment with President Obama’s performance.
And the signs of improvement were tempered by evidence that wage gains remained meager and that millions of Americans were still so discouraged by their job prospects that they had lost contact with the regular employment system.
President Obama, visiting an automotive steel supply company in Indiana, seized on the strong jobs numbers as evidence that his economic policies had helped spur the recovery.
Mr. Obama blamed Republicans for obstructing his proposals to help ordinary Americans. The nation added 248,000 jobs in September across almost all sectors of the economy, according to the Labor Department, which also revised what had originally been a discouraging August report, now estimating that 180,000 jobs were added that month. The latest gains put 2014 on pace to be the best year for job growth since the late 1990s, when Bill Clinton was in office.
The private sector has now added 10.3 million jobs over 55 straight months of job growth, a record that White House economists trumpeted in their own analysis of the data.
September’s report seemed even brighter against a global backdrop of stagnant economies in Europe and Japan and disappointing growth in China and other emerging markets.
The strong showing on Friday was the last monthly jobs report before next month’s midterm elections. But voters’ opinions on the economy tend to lag considerably behind the actual numbers, so political analysts warned against expecting any huge improvement in mood in time for the voting. If the gains continue, however, they could help lift President Obama’s party in 2016.
For Democrats, there was also a dark underbelly in Friday’s bright news. The employment rate among the constituents they need most on Election Day — women, young people and black voters — did not improve in September. Nor did the numbers of people employed part time because they could not find full-time work.
The actual percentage of working-age people with jobs — 59 percent — has not changed for four months, a reflection of just how many people have stopped looking for work. In statements on Friday, Republicans blamed Mr. Obama’s economic policies for leaving the labor participation rate at its lowest level since 1978.
Representative Kevin Brady, the Republican chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, said the president’s leadership “has held our economic recovery back” and that Wall Street was the only sector that was thriving.
Economists said the slow pace of wage gains despite the sharp drop in the unemployment rate was a continuing puzzle that would test the Federal Reserve’s ability to balance its interest in promoting broad-based prosperity against the responsibility to curb the risk of future inflation.
Political consultants had thought opinions this year could shift more quickly, given how social media, cable news and information sources saturate the public consciousness. But Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who teams up with William McInturff, a Republican pollster, on polling for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, said the severity of the Great Recession had proved such predictions wrong.
After recent dips in the markets, investors were encouraged by the job figures. Stocks moved higher and the dollar rose against many major currencies. Another bright spot on Friday was news that the trade deficit narrowed slightly in August, defying economists’ expectations.
With consumer confidence generally growing and business investment showing strength, many analysts are optimistic that in the next six months the economy will strengthen further.
But 4.8 million workers are missing from the job force, neither employed nor actively looking for work. Some of that is attributed to demographics. The latest jobs data is likely to sharpen a debate among Federal Reserve officials about how long to wait before beginning to raise interest rates. The Fed has held short-term rates near zero since 2008 to stimulate the economy.
The latest data is unlikely to shift the majority of the Fed’s policy-making committee from the view that patience is the best policy. As long as inflation stays sluggish officials say they see relatively little risk. Most say they would rather err on the side of pushing a little too hard to create jobs than retreat too soon.
Source: NY Times