You might think today's lackluster jobs report wouldn't leave much for the Bush administration to crow about. But low numbers aren't standing in the way of a little positive spin.
The tiny addition of 75,000 new jobs took a back seat to the one-tenth of a percent drop in the nation's unemployment rate (now at 4.6 percent) as outgoing Treasury Secretary John Snow took to the airwaves in a number of live television interviews after this mornings report. Snow told interviewers that the overall tone of the jobs market is strong and emphasized the fact that unemployment hasn't been this low in five years.
What he didn't say is that this slight drop in unemployment is well within the survey's margin of error and was characterized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics commissioner as "essentially unchanged."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert joined in the economic pep club chorus with an e-mailed statement to reporters.
"The American economy continues to create jobs that are putting paychecks in the pockets of American workers," read the Hastert statement. "We have seen strong job growth recently, with the U.S. economy creating more than 2 million jobs in the last year."
But if you check Hastert's math with the official figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you'll see he's a bit off.
You'd need a 13-month year to get to more than 2 million new jobs. From June 2005 to May 2006 (the generally accepted 12-month year) the economy has added just 1.896 million jobs.
But bad math is probably just confusing the issue, as is the administration's fear of acknowledging a slowing trend in hiring.
There's a bigger point here. It might actually be a good thing.
A Pause in Fed's Rate Hikes?
For almost two years the Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates. At first, it was to reset the fed funds rate -- what banks pay for overnight loans -- to neutral after it shifted rates to a historic low of 1 percent after the 9/11 attacks.
Recently, though, the Fed has been raising rates to slow growth and defuse inflationary pressures. The low May jobs numbers are a good sign that the central bank's fear of prices rising out of control might be unfounded.
"This was a report that the Fed should love and that investors should embrace," said economist Joel Naroff in a post-release report. "There is a really good chance that the [Fed] will call a pause on June 29. And if second-quarter growth is as soft as I think it will be, that is, below 3 percent, then the August 8 meeting may see a repeat of the watchful waiting approach."
Should that pause actually materialize at the end of the month, Wall Street will likely celebrate. The end of the long march of quarter-point rate hikes (which has left a key Federal interest rate at 5 percent) might spark a stock rally.
Should inflation then remain in check and GDP growth settle into a healthy 2.5 to 3 percent range, the Greenspan and Bernanke Feds will have engineered a soft-landing.
That would be unusual and worth sending out a press release about. Historically, the Fed has overshot during its rate "tightening" cycles, forcing the economy into a bit of a stumble.