The nation's payrolls rose by only 142,000 last month, and job gains for July and August were revised down by 59,000, suggesting the pace of job growth has slowed in recent months. Analysts were expecting job growth of around 200,000, and the question is how much should it change our views about underlying labor market conditions?
The last time the unemployment rate was below 6 percent was in July 2008. Moreover, while the labor force fell slightly (though statistically insignificantly) last month, the decline in the jobless rate over the past year has come for the "right" reason: more people finding work, not leaving the job market.
This week saw the first presidential debate. The main topic was the economy, but we heard more about Big Bird than jobs or the foreclosure crisis. Also missing: President Obama, who was more present on stage with Eastwood in Tampa than with Romney in Denver. It wasn't a bad metaphor for the last three years: one side lying about tax cuts and deficits, the other defensive and unwilling to fight for its own job-creating policies. The election narrative shifted again on Friday when the latest jobs report showed a drop in unemployment to 7.8 percent. Republicans screamed fraud, with no basis in reality. But lest we pop the champagne too soon, remember that at the present rate of 114,000 jobs added a month, it would take over a decade to reach full employment. A celebration based on such meager numbers underscores just how badly we need a real debate on the economy.