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The Economy Turns the Corner

It’s an election year and the Republicans who were counting on riding a lousy economy into the Oval Office may have skidded off the road.  Two reports today — one showing robust job growth and declining unemployment from this morning and another showing the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaching its highest mark in 11 years out this afternoon.

Things are getting better.  It could be a Blue Fall for Republicans.

This morning’s job news from The Washington Post:

The nation’s unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month in January, to 8.3 percent, its lowest level in three years, the Labor Department reported Friday, with widespread hiring across the economy.

The number of jobs grew by 243,000, the government said.

A closer look at January’s employment picture, including unemployment rate, jobs added, and unemployment rate by sector.

The Labor Department recorded gains in many parts of the economy. The manufacturing industry added 50,000 jobs; the leisure and hospitality businesses added 44,000; and the health care industry added 30,000.

In all, the ranks of the unemployed dropped to 12.8 million in January from 13.1 million the month before.

The report also revised November’s payroll numbers, saying that the economy added 157,000 jobs that month, rather than the 100,000 reported. Revisions to the December figure were small.

Stocks surged on the news. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and other indices had risen one percent at mid-morning.

 And the Post carried this news about the highest level of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since December 2000 (when Bill Clinton was still president): 

The surprising data gave financial markets a morning jolt that lasted throughout the trading day. The Nasdaq index closed 45.98 points higher at 2,905.66, its highest since December 2000, during the steep decline that followed the dot-com stock bubble.

The price of ultra-safe Treasury notes dropped, sending yields higher, and the price of oil rose for the first time in a week.

“In this economy, only one variable matters right now, and that variable is employment,” said Lawrence Creatura, an equity portfolio manager at Federated Investors. “This report was great news. It was beyond all expectations, literally. The number was higher than even the highest forecast.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 19.36 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,344.90, its highest close since last July. The S&P 500 surged 2.2 percent for the week, its fifth straight week of gains. That’s the longest weekly winning stretch since January of 2011.

More evidence that the economy is gaining strength followed the jobs report. A trade group said the service industry expanded at the fastest pace since last February. The government also said factory orders rose 1.1 percent in December, supported by a rebound in orders for heavy machinery.

The brighting economy picture has already caused the Associated Press to offer this political analysis in the wake of the news:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The stronger the economy gets, the more the presidential race comes down to what voters believe: Are things actually getting better? Or is it all still a mess?

If the economy’s direction is the key, President Barack Obama’s hand just keeps getting better.

A new snapshot Friday showed the unemployment rate has tumbled to 8.3 percent. That means it is almost back to where it was right after Obama took office, a time when a monstrous recession was still gobbling up American jobs. Hiring is now on a consistent upswing. Employers added nearly twice as many jobs last year as they did in 2010.

With every fresh batch of economic data, the Republicans challenging Obama and the president himself try to spin the numbers to their advantage, depicting either a nation mired in trouble or one showing undeniable signs of progress. Both often seem to be true.

So whichever side sways people on where to put their focus — on America’s lingering economic hole or on the fact that the country is climbing out of it — will have an enormous edge toward winning the White House.

Shortly after the jobs report was released, Obama sounded more confident than ever, declaring: “The recovery is speeding up.”

The Republicans say that’s none of his doing, that improvements have come in spite of his policies, not because of them. There’s still a long way to go before full recovery; federal deficits and Europe’s troubles hang ominously over the U.S.; unemployment could worsen again.

But there’s little doubt that the brightening picture, which is also reflected in other economic indicators, has seriously complicated the messaging for the GOP.

It wasn’t long ago that the unemployment rate was closer to 10 percent and stagnant, making it easier for them to claim nothing was getting better under Obama. Now they have to calibrate.



  1. Robert Lauten Robert Lauten February 3, 2012

    “Remember that the unemployment rate is not “how many people don’t have jobs?”, but “how many people don’t have jobs and are actively looking for them?” Let’s say you’ve been looking fruitlessly for five months and realize you’ve exhausted every job listing in your area. Discouraged, you stop looking, at least for the moment. According to the government, you’re no longer unemployed. Congratulations?”

    “And the real un- and underemployed rate — the so-called “U6” — is near 20 percent.”

    “Wonkbook: The real unemployment rate is 11 percent”

  2. cook cook February 5, 2012

    Years back when Bush was president and the presidential campaign was in full swing, the economy took a dive.

    The FREE MARKET looks to the future, and at the time the economy was tanking, it was becoming clear that the next administration was going to take a socialist lean with Obama as the projected winner in Nov. 08

    The FREE MARKET decided to take 4 years off.

    NOW, the FREE MARKET is see a change in the future, the socialist experiment will be scrapped and a new administration will take over next January.

  3. Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski February 5, 2012

    That is the dumbest comment you’ve ever left Cook. I only hope you were joking

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