National job-creation figures for January offer a depressing picture of prospects for the U.S. economy.
Just 113,000 jobs were created last month, after an even weaker total of 74,000 in December. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent to 6.6 percent, which is good, but it reflects more people dropping out of the labor force in the face of dim hopes for jobs.
The number of new jobs does not cover the number of entries into the marketplace each month. At the current rate of increase, it would take years just to get back to pre-2008, pre-Great Recession levels of employment.
Congress has not extended federal benefits for long-term unemployed Americans, mostly because of Republican opposition. If there were any truth to the loony arguments in Washington for allowing the benefits to end — such as that the emergency aid discourages unemployed people from seeking work — then more workers should have been driven into the job market in January. But they were not.
The economy also was rattled by the fact that another government shutdown was threatened by another debt ceiling crisis. Fortunately, the House voted Tuesday to raise the debt limit until March, 2015, with no conditions.
Nothing in the outside world offers much hope of improvement in the U.S. economy. Foreign markets are at risk of destructive capital flight to the United States, as dollars that previously flowed in as investment have begun to evaporate because of the Federal Reserve’s pullback from its policies of economic stimulus. The bond rating of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has fallen to junk status.
Hope always reigns supreme as spring approaches. But it’s hard to be hopeful about this unpromising situation.