Saturday’s lead New York Times story by economics reporter Catherine Rampell found some hope for President Obama: “Jobless Rate Dips To Lowest Level For Last 2 Years – Unemployment at 8.6% – Boost for White House as Economy Shows Some Resilience.”
The economic news also led the Washington Post on Saturday, but its deck of headlines was less optimistic than that of the Times, putting the caveats in the headline instead of in paragraph five as the Times did: “Jobless rate falls to 8.6 percent – 120,000 added to payrolls in Nov. Drop also reflects that many quit seeking work."
The NYT’s Rampell trumpeted the “good news for President Obama.”
Somehow the American economy appears to be getting better, even as the rest of the world is looking worse.
In the midst of the European debt crisis, lingering instability in the oil-rich Middle East and concerns about a Chinese economic slowdown, the American unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped last month to 8.6 percent, its lowest level in two and a half years.
The Labor Department also said that the nation’s employers added 120,000 jobs in November and that job growth for the previous two months was better than initially reported. That looks like good news for President Obama as he heads into the 2012 presidential election -- especially since just a few months ago the picture looked bleak.
The reality check began in paragraph five.
Even so, part of the reason the jobless rate fell so low was that 315,000 unemployed workers simply stopped applying for jobs. And resilient as the economy seems to have been since this summer, the fate of the fragile recovery is still tied to external -- and especially European -- events.
So far Europe’s problems have been relatively contained to the Continent. Many economists worry that a disorderly default of Greece or Italy, which still looks alarmingly possible, could plunge Europe into a depression.
If recent history is any guide, even a modest shock wave from across the ocean could throw the American economy off course; earlier this year, a series of shocks from higher oil prices, the Japanese earthquake and the stalemate over the United States debt ceiling managed to drain the energy from the recovery.
November’s drop in unemployment was a welcome relief, given that the jobless rate had been stuck at 9 percent for most of 2011. It is at the lowest level since March 2009; the rate has been above 8 percent for 33 months.
Rampell pushed Obama’s call for a payroll tax cut, as well as extending unemployment benefits, which “are believed to have one of the most stimulative effects on the economy, because recipients are likely to spend all of the money they receive quickly and pump more spending through the economy.”
Back in July, Rampell wondered where the left-wing rioting was in a news story on the high unemployment rate that predated the Occupy Wall Street movement.