A jobs report — and what it does and doesn’t tell us

A jobs report overshadowed by those who haven't been on it for years

Today, the first jobs report of the year comes out. The prognosticators who wait for the month's first Friday with bated breath don't know quite what to expect ... except it will probably be weird. The polar vortex means that hires may have been down. Or on the other hand, we may be overstating weather's influence on the jobs report — this month or last month. Or, we may just be desperate for another opportunity to talk about the weather (when did the most feeble of icebreakers become the LBD of the Internet?). Overall, economic meteorologists forecast that the jobs report will show we added about 180,000 jobs in January, and that the unemployment rate will stay at 6.7 percent.

The jobs report will also be the first since Congress failed to pass a bill extending longterm unemployment benefits, which leaves 1 million Americans unable to collect unemployment anymore. Many of those people will now stop looking for a job — a requirement of collecting the extended unemployment benefits — and the unemployment rate will drop as a result. A Wall Street Journal story about the jobs report notes, “'It would continue the trend of the unemployment rate falling for the wrong reasons,'” said Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight. In December, only 62.8% of people in the U.S. older than 16 were in the labor force. That matched the lowest participation rate since 1978, a time when women were entering the labor force in greater numbers." Meanwhile, fewer people are making new claims for unemployment benefits, which means the economy may be ready to improve and leave the longterm unemployed in its dust. As Peter Coy notes, "the more the overall job market recovers, the more the long-term unemployed tend to get ignored — or even worse, treated as losers or shirkers. Congressional Republicans have blocked extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed this year in part because of concern that those benefits breed dependency. 'I’m not against having unemployment insurance,' Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, said on ABC’s This Week in January. 'I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it does provide some disincentive to work and that there are many studies that indicate this.'"

The fate of the longterm unemployed will be one of the biggest question marks the United States needs to solve in 2014. Right now, one in six men between the ages of 25 and 54 don't have a job. Thirty-one percent of the unemployed 20-24 year olds in the country haven't had a job for over 27 weeks. Employers are far less likely to consider applicants who haven't had a job in months. Longterm unemployment hasn't been this bad in the U.S. since the Great Depression. It's a big problem, and if it's not fixed, the unemployment rate isn't going to budge. President Obama has made helping them one of the policy themes of the year, including a new initiative with over 300 companies that pledged to change their hiring processes not to discriminate against the longterm unemployed. A $150 million grant program to encourage nonprofits to help the longterm unemployed with their job search is also in the works.

There is a lot that Congress can do to help the situation too, as Derek Thompson points out:

In a market failure like this, only Washington can intervene — through stimulus, through direct hiring, or through clever incentives. That's not some hippy-dippy conclusion. Plenty of conservatives and Republicans agree, including Michael Strain at AEI and Sen. John Thune, who teamed up to propose a plan that would give businesses a six-month payroll-tax holiday for each long-term jobless worker they hired and give the workers special loans to move to areas with lower unemployment. Strain's colleague at AEI, Kevin Hassett, has repeatedly argued that government should hire these workers directly.

That they haven't tried anything yet, however, isn't an encouraging sign.

Bidens are a train's best friend


Vice President Joe Biden's passion for trains is well-documented — although his eye did wander to a particularly beautiful automobile yesterday at a autoworkers union event and he had a brief flirtation with planes before returning to his one true love. He was late for the Robert Bork hearings because his train was delayed. He once rode a train with Whoopi Goldberg. He rode trains with Hillary Clinton all the time. "He throws parties for retiring conductors, and once had a crewman serenaded by bagpipes." He even appeared on the cover of Acela Magazine once. Amtrak named a station in Delaware the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station. Yesterday he got to unveil shiny new trains, which will start running between Boston and Washington, as well as in Pennsylvania, starting today. NBC News reported that Biden called "the rail corridor 'a critical artery' supporting the nation's growth and commerce. He says the U.S. loses $51 billion in productivity each year due to highway traffic jams." However, Biden's appearance in Philadelphia to announce said productivity boosters also caused a big of a traffic problem.

Per usual, Biden had prepared one line to have the press jumping for joy at its utter Biden-ness, giving him and his beloved steam engine all the media he thinks both warrant.

If I blindfolded someone and took them to into the airport in Hong Kong and said, where do you think you are? They'd say, This must be America; it's a modern airport. If I took them blindfolded and took them to Laguardia Airport in New York, they'd think, I must be in some third world country. No, I'm not joking!

Although some news outlets jumped on it as a gaffe, many New Yorkers came to the vice president's defense.

LaGuardia Airport is actually much worse than Biden is saying. #LGA

Donald Trump and a former Port Authority executive have also likened LaGuardia to a third-world country airport. Phillip Bump, on the other hand, challenged Biden to tell the difference between Delaware and third-world countries. Thomas Friedman is likely somewhere wondering why we aren't still talking about how Union Station looks like it's in a third-world country. 

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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