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Published: Saturday, 3/12/2005

Job surge

FEBRUARY'S job creation figure of 262,000 is very good news for the United States, whatever the assessment of the overall health of the economy.

During the run-up to the November election, one of the figures that both sides were watching carefully each month was the number of jobs the U.S. economy was creating. In general the numbers were feeble, usually less than the 150,000 per month that must be created to meet the needs of new entries into the job market. In his first term, President Bush presided over a loss of about a million jobs. But, for whatever combination of reasons, weakness in that area certainly did not cost Mr. Bush the November election. Now, even though the unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage points to 5.4 percent in February, the job scene seems to be brightening, with positive creation in recent months.

That, against a backdrop of other positive economic news may signal that a definite, though fragile, recovery is under way. U.S. economic growth is at an acceptable 4 percent level. The stock market remains the stock market that is to say, up and down but it is generally up.

The dark side of the street is the half-trillion-dollar budget deficit, fueled by continued high spending on defense and a hesitation on the part of the administration and the Congress to bite into the nation's social services further to favor meeting military demands. Other negative elements include the continued rising cost of oil, which seems not yet to be playing its normal dampening role in the U.S. economy.

The role of foreign investment - put more plainly, Chinese, Japanese and European purchases of U.S. treasury bonds at $2 billion a day in financing the soaring U.S. trade imbalance as well as the budget deficit - is the sagging ceiling over the bed that hasn't fallen in yet.

The better jobs numbers could be the result of Bush policies. That is to say, policies that include tax cuts that benefit the rich with more to come, deficits that have America borrowing today for someone to pay back tomorrow, running the risk of inflation that would diminish the debt but butcher Americans whose wages won't keep pace.

We'll take the new jobs, but there is good reason to be wary of the long-term consequences of administration policies as they welcome the recent improvement in the jobs picture.

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