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The February jobs report showing an increase of 192,000 jobs, with increased employment in virtually all sectors, provides welcome news. But don’t break out the bubbly. The reality is still sobering. The unemployment rate and the number of unemployed remain unchanged. 24.7 million workers are unemployed or underemployed.
We aren’t sinking, but we’re still treading water. Over the past year, we’ve gained 1.3 million jobs, or an average of 106,000 a month. As Fed Chair Ben Bernanke testified, this is not sufficient to employ the new people coming into the labor market, much less begin to recover the 8.5 million jobs lost in the Great Recession.
Moreover, the head winds that the economy faces are still fierce. State and local government employment declined in February, with more layoffs certain to come at all levels of government. If the budget cuts passed by the House are enacted into law, the loss of jobs at the federal level alone, projected at 700,000 by Goldman Sachs would erase more than three months gains at the February’s rate. And, of course, the February figures do not reflect the effects of the rising price of oil and gas coming out of the turmoil in the Middle East. Turning to austerity now will sap the fragile momentum the economy has.
Mass unemployment, with record levels of long-term unemployment, is a human and social calamity. In February, we stopped losing ground. But the economy is still a long way from a recovery that working families can experience.