Exports rose, hiring slowed

The latest monthly employment data from the Labor Department has disappointed observers of the national economy. The Washington Post’s Neil Irwin summarizes the report:

Too few jobs were added to keep up with the growing American workforce (that number is more like 125,000). The headline read that the unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent from 7.7 percent, but it was almost entirely for bad reasons. A whopping 496,000 people dropped out of the labor force, and 206,000 fewer people reported having a job, meaning that the proportion of Americans currently working actually ticked down, not up.

At The Fix, Chris Cillizza argues that even though Friday’s numbers will not be as widely discussed as Labor’s monthly reports were before the election, they are still important politically:

If the White House and congressional Republicans are to strike a long-term deal to address the deficit before the next election, it won’t come without intense negotiations. In such talks, the position one is negotiating from can say a lot about where the talks will ultimately end up. And dealing with an Obama emboldened by a continued recovery in the economic — which many people gauge with the jobs metric — is very different for Republicans than dealing with a president who is playing defense against questions about why the employment picture doesn’t look better.

Post opinion columnist Jennifer Rubin criticizes the administration as failing to improve economic conditions:

The president, rightfully so, will take another pummeling for failing to focus on jobs. And the push by the president and Senate Democrats for tax hikes will appear even more ludicrous. . .

There is no substitute for a strong private sector. Right now, employers aren’t hiring. You can attribute that to nervousness over Obamacare or to the payroll tax or to the aggregate burden of taxes and regulations, but the economy remains hobbled. And worst of all, we are approaching the point, as during the Great Depression, when sustained high unemployment will have ripples for years and years to come.

Putting this week’s report in context, Washington Post business reporter Ylan Mui notes reasons for optimism:

The drop-off in the March data follows a pattern established over the past two years, in which momentum in the winter dissipates by the summer. Several other economic indicators this week have clocked in below expectations. . .

Still, there are glimmers of life in the economy. The rebound in the real estate market has helped rebuild the equity many Americans have in their homes. That is not only helping consumers feel more comfortable spending money, but it’s also spurring new hiring in construction. Major stock market indexes hit record highs last month, and Americans’ retirement accounts have reached new levels as well.

More positive economic data this week indicates the U.S. trade deficit is narrowing as exports rise, the Associated Press reports:

Stronger exports of U.S. energy products and autos offset declines in sales of airplanes and farm equipment.

Imports were flat at $228.9 billion with the volume of crude oil falling to the lowest point since March 1996.

For charts showing the recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, visit Wonkblog.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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