We know the good news from Friday's jobs report. December had the most jobs added since September 2011 and the lowest unemployment rate since Feb-March 2009. For all of 2011, the economy added 1.6 million jobs, better than the 940,000 added in 2010.
The economy must add about 200,000 to 250,000 jobs every month to get the unemployment rate down below 8 percent.
THE GOOD SIGNS:
Manufacturing - After four months of little change, the manufacturing sector added 23,000 jobs. These are generally highly productive good jobs and a sign that the economy is growing.
Wage growth - The average hourly earnings for all employees in the private sector rose by 4 cents or 0.2 percent in December. This isn't huge growth, but may be a slow crawl toward more robust growth so Americans will have more money to spend.
Hours worked - The average workweek for employees in the private sector grew 0.1 hour to 34.4 hours a week. This again is not huge growth but could mean that there is more work and more demand in the economy that will eventually lead to employers hiring more people to do the work.
THE BAD SIGNS:
Long-term unemployed - There was little change in the long-term unemployed. Of the country's 13.1 million unemployed, 42.5 percent or 5.6 million have been out of work for six months or longer. These millions of people risk being left behind as the rest of the economy moves forward.
Labor force participation - This is the rate at which people are entering the work force, and it did not change in the month of December. A real measure of growth may be that people are coming into the labor force in large numbers and getting jobs quickly. We are not seeing that right now.
Last year looked about the same - At this time last year there was considerable optimism about the health of the U.S. jobs market. The unemployment rate seemed to be coming down and the economy was adding jobs. Then came the earthquake in Japan, the gridlock in Washington and the economic crisis in Europe. While we have good news today, it needs to last several months before we can be sure that there are again more jobs in the U.S. economy.