U.S. payrolls grow, but jobless rate holds steady

President Obama says country the is 'beginning to turn the corner' on chronic unemployment, hailing new figures during an appearance in Charlotte.
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2010

The economy is adding jobs at a modest clip, though not nearly fast enough to bring down an unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent.

New government data released Friday showed the biggest monthly surge in three years, with employers creating 162,000 new jobs in March. More than a quarter of that, however, was the result of temporary census workers being hired by the government, leaving many analysts questioning whether the rebounding economy is strong enough to sustain measurable job growth.

Manufacturers and union leaders reacted similarly: with guarded optimism.

The White House and Democrats in Congress must now weigh the benefits of spending on additional job stimulus against criticism that they are dangerously increasing the budget deficit and national debt. Yielding to temptation to pour more federal money into job growth will incite deficit hawks and could spell trouble for Democratic lawmakers seeking reelection in November.

On Friday, President Obama's top economic adviser said more attempts to stimulate job growth are necessary, offering a suite of public and private-sector solutions.

"You do need some more general support stimulus," said Christina Romer, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. "For example, extending unemployment insurance for more than a couple of weeks at a time. Also, state and local governments are still in terrible budgetary shape. Doing more state fiscal relief is absolutely sensible."

Additionally, she said: "The president has also recommended zero capital gains tax for small businesses and a small-business lending fund. Those are very good ideas."

Republicans criticized last year's $787 billion stimulus plan as a budget-buster. Since then, the White House has deployed smaller, targeted stimulus packages. Still, the GOP argues, Democrats are doing more to run up the nation's debt than bring down unemployment.

"Sustained job creation is the only economic indicator that matters to the American people and to this point, the Obama administration's economic policies have failed to live up to expectation," said Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "The only thing long term that the Obama administration has produced are soaring deficits that threaten the future solvency of our economy."

Hiring has trended upward since the beginning of the year, but long-term joblessness continues to rise as well. The number of long-term unemployed -- more than 27 weeks -- hit a record high of 6.5 million in March, as the group proved largely immune to government efforts.

Analysts say it will be difficult for this economy to start creating a meaningful number of new jobs until employers begin to add about 300,000 jobs a month, or about double the March number, and the weekly new jobless claims number drops into the low 400,000s and stays there. The number of new jobless claims filed last week dipped slightly, down 6,000 to 439,000.

"We don't yet see a sustainable recovery in the private sector strong enough to repair the damage to employment from this recession," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

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