WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans pooh-poohed the latest jobs report on Friday, saying that while the decline in the unemployment rate might be good, it would have been better if they were in charge.
The Labor Department announced Friday morning that the economy had added 243,000 jobs in January and that the national unemployment rate had continued to decline, from 8.5 percent to 8.3 percent. While this is the 16th straight month of job growth, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) joined several other House Republicans in a press conference to point out it's the 36th consecutive month with an unemployment rate above 8 percent.
"There are flickers of hope in our recovery, and certainly they are welcome," Boehner said. "But the American people were promised by the president that unemployment would not exceed 8 percent, and here we are at 36 straight months with unemployment over 8 percent."
Of course, politicians always spin the monthly jobs update. But Friday's announcement, notwithstanding concerns about long-term joblessness and the shrunken size of the labor force, is the latest of several broadly positive reports. A reporter at the conference asked Boehner if he really thought it was so bad: "This has been a very negative news conference despite the good news this morning. Aren’t the numbers some indication that the economy is headed in the right direction under the president’s policies?"
"I think I made it clear there's certainly some positive news here," Boehner said. "But the point we're making is that we could do a lot better. If the president would work with us on the bills that have passed the House that are awaiting action in the Senate, the American economy could do better."
Another reporter seemed baffled by the negativity: "You've been in control for a year. You've had some success in controlling spending. Why don't you take credit for some of the good news in the economy instead of talking down what most people see as good news?"
"What I'm suggesting to you to you today is that we could do better," Boehner said. "The American people are still asking the question, Where are the jobs? While the unemployment rate is down slightly, and a few more Americans are at work, we still have millions of Americans that are looking for work."
He's right about that: Nearly 13 million people were out of work in January, and 5.5 million had been jobless for six months or longer. Both numbers are smaller than they were last year, but they're still huge numbers.
Not to be outspun, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted a link to a press release from Boehner's office in 2004, when he was chairman of the House Committee on Education and Workforce. The Labor Department had just announced the economy added 288,000 jobs that April, and that the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.6 percent. Pfeiffer tweaked Boehner for touting consecutive months of job growth then but not now.
"Eight consecutive months of positive job growth shows the Republican plan for economic prosperity is working and more and more Americans are finding work everyday," Boehner's release said.