The federal jobs report for November reflects continued, if slow, improvement in the nation’s economy. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, the lowest level in four years. Employers created 146,000 jobs last month, more than economists had predicted, despite the damage done by Hurricane Sandy. Average hourly earnings rose by 0.2 percent.
It’s good news, mitigated somewhat by the number of discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs or can find only part-time employment. The last thing anyone should want now is a return to recession, which would stall job creation and drive up the jobless rate again.
But that’s likely to happen if President Obama and Congress cannot agree on a plan to avoid the fiscal cliff that looms at the end of the year, with its automatic tax increases and Draconian spending cuts. And even if they resolve that impasse, Republican lawmakers’ renewed willingness to hold the nation hostage over the federal debt ceiling threatens the U.S. credit rating, and thus investor confidence around the world.
Although retail employment is picking up, the nation’s manufacturing sector lost jobs in November — especially bad news for industrial states such as Ohio and Michigan. Some manufacturers are putting off spending until they see how the fiscal talks in Washington play out.
The U.S. Labor Department revised downward its earlier estimates of job growth in September and October. Worse, the new consumer confidence index compiled by the University of Michigan is the lowest since last August. Analysts relate those bleak expectations to Americans’ apprehension over the budget stalemate.
Ohio’s unemployment rate — 6.9 percent in October — remains below the national average. But that is no cause for complacency, since nearly 400,000 Ohioans are still out of work.
Perhaps those lawmakers, from Ohio and elsewhere, who would sooner accept another recession than a tax-rate increase for the richest Americans could spare a thought for the 12 million unemployed for whom recovery is a distant rumor.