Unemployment Falls, For Real This Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 4 2011 9:10 AM

Unemployment Falls, For Real This Time

Last month's unemployment report, the one that had the rate falling from 9.4 percent to 9 percent, was less than met the eye. This one is more promising; it also revises the December and January reports by around 30,000 jobs each. The overall rate falls to 8.9 percent, but non-farm payroll rose by 192,000 jobs, and they would seem to be real jobs.

Manufacturing employment rose by 33,000 in February. Almost all of the gain occurred in durable goods industries, including machinery (+9,000) and fabricated metal pro- ducts (+7,000). Manufacturing has added 195,000 jobs since its most recent trough in December 2009; durable goods manufacturing added 233,000 jobs during this period. 

Construction employment grew by 33,000 in February, following a decline of 22,000 in January that may have reflected severe winter weather. Within construction, specialty trade contractors accounted for the bulk of the February job gain (+28,000).

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This has been happening as government employment has been falling; local governments have shed 377,000 jobs since the start of the recession in September 2008. (By comparison, Wisconsin has around 300,000 public employees.)

What's the political side of this? Eric Cantor's office has put out an uncontroversial statement stating that "businesses are beginning to hire and people are getting back to work," which understates the growth we saw in 2010 but doesn't fall into the sand trap of taking credit for the jobs. All of this happens as polls show Barack Obama easily defeating all of his possible 2012 rivals except Mike Huckabee, who seems insistent on giving interviews on nutty subjects to nutty radio hosts until his numbers react.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.