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Economy & Business

Do Today’s Good Jobs Numbers Mean the Economy Is Back on Track?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in April, a solid number that’s reassuring after the economy added a below-average number of jobs in March. In fact, we found out today that March was even worse than we were told at first: That month added only 85,000 jobs, a third less than we thought at first. 

March’s bad jobs numbers plus a slew of other bad economic data — which combined for a pathetically slow GDP growth number for the first three months of the year — had some worried that the reasonably strong jobs and overall growth of 2014 had come to a halt. The good news is that March, and the first quarter, may have been a bit of a blip — today’s report also indicated that February’s numbers were even stronger than expected, adding 266,000 jobs.

Some of the weaknesses we saw in March are going to stick around, and this jobs report is only decent despite their presence, not because of their absence. The two biggies:

Oil-and-gas jobs: These fall under “mining” as defined by the BLS (why not), and the mining sector lost 15,000 jobs this month, after losing 12,000 the previous month. This is of course due to low oil prices (and low natural-gas prices) — which thankfully are a boon to the rest of the economy. The fracking boom has made oil and gas a much bigger share of the U.S. economy, but we’re still better off overall with lower oil prices. In the short term, however, mass layoffs in the oil-and-gas industry are going to drag down employment numbers.

Manufacturing: This very large sector — it’s still 9 percent of American jobs — is not shrinking, but it has added a grand total of 1,000 jobs over the past two months. When a sector that’s consistently added jobs over the past few years (although not nearly at the rate the president had promised with his silly 2012 manufacturing-jobs plan) does that, it’s going to depress overall jobs growth. Manufacturing’s problem is that the dollar’s strength versus the euro and other currencies has widened the U.S. trade deficit.

April isn’t dispositive: Maybe 2015 isn’t going to see the sort-of-impressive jobs growth 2014 did, but it still could. But today’s news is a heartening sign that the economy has maybe not downshifted noticeably.

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.

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