US Labor Market Surges, Jobless Rate Falls

Posted February 3rd, 2012 at 10:30 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. says its labor market surged last month, with nearly a quarter million workers added to company payrolls, and that its unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest in almost three years.

In its closely watched monthly report, the government said Friday that 243,000 jobs were added to the economy, a month after the world’s largest economy recorded 200,000 new jobs. The January figure — the biggest addition in nine months — substantially exceeded the early estimates of economists. Analysts said the report signaled that the sluggish U.S. economic recovery might be advancing at a faster pace than first thought.

Investors seemed heartened by the favorable news, boosting major U.S. stock indexes by more than one percent in early New York trading.

The jobs report and the jobless rate have perhaps become the two most important barometers of the sluggishly advancing American economy. Central bank chief Ben Bernanke said this week that the recovery from the nation’s 2007 to 2009 recession, its worst economic downturn in seven decades, has been been “frustratingly slow” and is likely to advance by no more than 2.7 percent this year.

But the January jobs report — and the unexpected drop in the jobless rate from December’s 8.5 percent figure — could boost the re-election prospects for U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat seeking a second four-year term in the national election next November. The two leading contenders seeking the Republican nomination to oppose him — one-time venture capitalist Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — have regularly unleashed verbal assaults on the president’s handling of the economy, calling for less government regulation of American corporations as a way to boost the country’s economic fortunes.

Analysts say the additional number of U.S. jobs the last two months are a sign the American economy is growing at a time when some other economies across the globe, such as in Europe, have virtually stalled, or slowed, as is the case in China and India.

The U.S. jobless rate has dropped for five straight months, the first time that has occurred in 18 years. The government said the boost in hiring occurred across the economy, with manufacturers adding 50,000 jobs and the leisure and hospitality industry another 44,000. Professional and business service companies hired 70,000 more workers, the most in 10 months, with many of them filling higher-paying positions.

Even with the additional jobs added to the labor market in January, the U.S. has fallen far short of replacing the 8.7 million jobs lost in the recession. Nearly 13 million workers remain unemployed, while millions more are under-employed, working part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work or at jobs beneath their skill level.

The state of the U.S. economy has become the prime issue in the emerging presidential campaign, with many voters saying they disapprove of the way that Mr. Obama has overseen the recovery. Even with the falling jobless rate, he is likely to face voters with the highest national unemployment figure of any U.S. president since the end of World War Two.

Mr. Obama has said that without the still-controversial economic boost the government provided some American corporations during the worst days of the recession, the national economy would be in worse shape. The country’s housing market has been particularly troubled, with millions of unemployed homeowners losing their houses to bank foreclosures when they could no longer make their monthly loan payments.