Last week saw the start of February, and in Washington the start of the month means data dumps. Numbers. Economic numbers. Jobs numbers. Lots of numbers.
Depending on their content (and on whether or not there's something deemed more interesting taking place on Capitol Hill) these reports are either trumpeted or decried. But do not lose sight: They're important temperature gauges for the health of our economy.
First came a release of GDP data. It appears that in the fourth quarter of 2012, our economy contracted for the first time since late 2009. That's bad news for an ongoing economic recovery that, while slowly moving in the right direction, could certainly be described as lukewarm.
Next came the monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And the results were again tepid: The national unemployment rate rose, if ever so slightly, to the 7.9 percent.
Our elected leaders no doubt know the importance of a healthy economy and a happy, robust middle class. That's why last year's presidential campaigns ran more than 975,000 television spots combined on the issue of job creation. And that's why President Obama, in his nomination acceptance speech, promised to create one million new domestic manufacturing jobs by the end of his second term.
Though this is a modest goal considering the millions of manufacturing jobs lost in the United States in the past few years (5.5 million disappeared between 2000 and 2009), President Obama's pledge was a step in the right direction and we applaud him for it.
Now we just need to make sure he doesn't forget it.
Too often does the debate in Washington get derailed. If, for instance, our national punditocracy spent a fraction of time talking about smart ways to create jobs as it spends obsessing over the debt, we might actually put some Americans back to work. We'd even put a dent in that deficit total at the same time.
So to better follow the president's progress toward his stated benchmark -- and to help make sure our political priorities are kept straight -- the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) rolled out a nifty new jobs tracker: the #AAMeter. By using the data in the monthly BLS jobs reports, we'll keep an eye on how far he's come to fulfilling his convention promise -- and another on how far he has to go.
So how are we doing so far?
In January, the economy eked out only 4,000 new manufacturing jobs, and it looks like President Obama will have to pick up the pace to meet his goal. But by reminding him of his promise, and by encouraging his administration to adopt a national manufacturing strategy, we believe the president can fulfill his campaign pledge.
Until then? We will be watching, and the unemployed will be waiting.
Click here to view the #AAMeter.
Follow Scott Paul on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ScottPaulAAM