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Despite our best efforts, a not-bad jobs report

By Ezra Klein,

The economy gained 216,000 jobs in March. That breaks down to an increase of 230,000 private-sector jobs and a loss of 14,000 public-sector jobs. It’s ... not bad. Particularly given that February was also not bad, with a gain of 194,000 jobs. Two not-bad months in a row are good for business confidence. Just as no one wants to start hiring too early, no one wants to start hiring too late. The recovery is a bit like Tinkerbell; for it to thrive, business has to believe.

But not-bad is also not good enough. Look at the graph atop this post. We’re the light gray line that climbs slowly. At this rate, getting back to the 5 percent unemployment rate we saw in early 2008 will take us till 2018. By any measure, that’s too long. The news, however, isn’t good for those who’d like to move faster. The Federal Reserve remains too cautious. Whatever the final deal between Congress and the White House, it will cut spending at the cost of jobs — a headwind, rather than a tailwind, for the labor market. There’s a good chance the government will shut down, either in a week or when we have to raise the debt limit, and that would do real damage to the economy. And then there are all the threats outside of our control: earthquakes in Japan and debt crises in Europe and slowing growth in China.

On the bright side, such threats were present in February and March, too. It has not been a quiet few months in the world economy. And yet the recovery is grinding along, absorbing bad news with relative calm and uncertainty with relative ease. That’s perhaps the best potential news in this report, and in the market’s performance in recent months: The economy is less fragile than it once was, and job growth might persevere despite bad decisions and bad luck. We’d better hope so, because we can count on plenty of both over the next few months.

Graph credit: Hamilton Project

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