April Jobs Forecast? Brighter Horizon But Still Some Clouds

The first Friday of every month turns the nation's attention to its battered labor market, but as the April jobs report gets released this Friday morning, the forecast is considerably brighter than at any time in the last two years.

For the first time since the recession began in 2009, the nation is expected to see job growth for two straight months. The consensus prediction is that employers will have added around 190,000 jobs to their payrolls last month. Just that prediction alone is welcome news for a country that lost 8.2 million jobs since January 2008.

But it is also welcome news for the White House and Democrats in Congress hoping to hang onto their own jobs with elections coming up this fall.

Obama was scheduled to speak about the economy this week in New Jersey, but the White House cancelled the event. The only explanation given by spokesman Robert Gibbs was that the president could not do both the Sunday trip to the Gulf Coast region to survey the oil damage and response, and travel to New Jersey.

Last month, he hit the road on the day the jobs report was released, discussing the economy with workers at a battery manufacturing facility in North Carolina, a state hit hard by job losses.

The White House continues to take a slow-and-steady approach to job growth -- touting the modest improvements but also stressing that there is a long way to go before there is reason for celebration.

One need look back no further than the month before the Obama administration took office to see signs of progress.

On Friday Dec. 5, 2008, White House economic adviser Christina Romer was pulled out of a meeting to brief then-President-elect Obama on the half million jobs lost in November.

"I am so sorry," Romer told Obama. "The numbers are just horrible."

Replied Obama, "It's not your fault -- yet."

Today, the jobs picture is far better, but at the same time still dire for millions of Americans. While 162,000 jobs were added to payrolls in March, the nation's unemployment rate is 9.7 percent.

Other Forecasts Call for Even Greater Job Growth

But there are encouraging indications that April's report will show more improvements in the labor market.

In the first three months of this year, the nation's economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent, the third straight month of growth. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of economic growth, increased by 3.6 percent in the first quarter, the biggest boost in three years.

"Given the other data," Romer said in a speech in Cleveland on Monday, "we are hopeful that Friday's April employment report will yield another positive reading."

While Romer acknowledged that "the economy still has a very long way to go," she said, "We are unquestionably on the right trajectory."

Vice President Joe Biden has voiced even greater optimism, confidently predicting at an April 23 fundraiser in Pittsburgh that the jobs report will show around 100,000 to 200,000 jobs added to payrolls.

That forecast is in line with the predictions of analysts such as Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's.com. The government's once-a-decade census, he said, will provide a massive boost to the jobs report.

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