The nation's employers added 290,000 jobs to their payrolls in April, the biggest increase in four years and a massive boost for the country's battered labor market.
With revisions to past reports released today, for the first time since December 2007 the nation has experienced job growth for four straight months, welcome news for a country that has lost nearly 8 million jobs since the recession started.
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 said that the news today was "particularly heartening" when you consider the state of the American economy just one year ago.
"There are a lot of people out there who are still experiencing real hardship and we've got to be mindful that today's job numbers, while welcome, leave us with a lot of work to do. It's going to take time to achieve the strong and sustained job growth that is necessary," the president said today at the White House.
"We've got a ways to go, but we've also come a very long way, and we can see that the difficult, and at times unpopular, steps that we've taken over the past year are making a difference," he said.
The president's comments today are the latest reflection of his administration's 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.
"We're adding to payrolls and have added 573,000 payroll jobs in the first four months of 2010, the vast majority in the private sector. That's a good sign and further confirmation that the Recovery Act and Financial Stability Program are having their intended effects," said Alan Krueger, chief economist and assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department.
Krueger added, "The unemployment rate is hovering just under 10 percent which is unacceptably high, but there are signs that underlying job market forces are moving in the right direction."
In addition to April's stronger-than-expected jobs report, 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. Despite the 290,000 jobs added in April, the nation's unemployment rate increased to 9.9 percent during the month, the result of the growing size of the labor force.
Other Forecasts Call for Even Greater Job Growth
There had been encouraging indications in recent weeks that April's report would be a strong one.
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 activity, increased by 3.6 percent in the first quarter, the biggest boost in three years.
Analysts had predicted growth of around 190,000 jobs in April, but today's report far exceeded expectations.
While Romer acknowledged in a speech in Cleveland this week 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 employment reports in the coming months would show up job growth of up to 500,000 jobs.
That boost, at least in part, will come from the government's once-a-decade census, which hires hundreds of thousands of temporary workers to assist with the nationwide count. The census added 66,000 jobs to the April report and is expected to add even more in the coming months.
Democrats on Capitol Hill sure hope that jobs growth will pick up.
Republicans, seeking to win back control of Congress this fall have been relentless in arguing that job growth has not returned fast enough or strong enough for millions of Americans.
"The administration predicted that if Congress enacted the stimulus plan, the unemployment rate would not exceed 8 percent," said Kevin Brady, the ranking Republican on the Joint Economic Committee, at a hearing this week. "The unemployment rate increased to 10.1 in October 2009, and remained at 9.7 percent in March 2010."
Brady cited a litany of the administration's policies, such as the health care reform bill, cap-and-trade legislation, and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of this year, as moves that are hurting the American labor market.
"The economic policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats, however well-intentioned they may be, are a hindrance to a robust job creation. If Americans wish to enjoy vigorous job growth, these economic policies must be reversed," Brady said.
Even White House economic adviser Paul Volcker acknowledged this week the unemployment picture is far from pretty.
"I am afraid the level of unemployment will be too high for too long," the former Federal Reserve chairman said in the prepared text for a speech in St. Louis on Monday. "My characterization of the outlook is a long slog."
While there remains a long way to go for the labor market, today's jobs report for April will have many unemployed Americans feeling far more confident about finding work again than they have been in a long, long time.
"We caught a lot of bad breaks on the way down," Biden said in April. "We're going to catch a few good breaks because of good planning on the way up."
For one month, at least, the country appears to have caught one of those good breaks.
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