Unemployment Holds at 9.7%

The national unemployment rate held steady in February at 9.7%, stubbornly down from the high of 10.1% in October and stubbornly refusing to decline from January's 9.7%. The White House has stressed storms but until we see the rate move down again, such talk is convincing only to economists and geeks. (State unemployment for January will be out March 10.)

Let's note the rate since President Obama took office,

Feb 09: 8.2%

Mar 09: 8.6%

Apr 09: 8.9%

May 09: 9.4%

Jun 09: 9.5%

July 09: 9.4%

Aug 09: 9.7%

Sep 09: 9.8%

Oct 09: 10.1%

Nov 09: 10.0%

Dec 09: 10.0%

Jan 10: 9.7%

Feb 10: 9.7%

12 month change: +1.5%

 6 month change: 0.0%

4 month change: -0.4%

1 month change: 0.0%

There is enough there to argue about. 

On the bright side for the administration is the first revision of 4th quarter real GDP, which was moved up from 5.7% to 5.9% growth. That is the number to watch as a better indicator of future growth and unemployment trends. If the economy continues to expand at this rate in the 1st and 2nd quarters economic optimism is likely to rise even with a lagging and gradual decline in unemployment.  Third quarter growth was, in contrast, revised downward from initial estimates to an eventual 2.2% growth. For comparison, 1st and 2nd quarters were -6.4% and -0.7% respectively. For the year, 2009 was terrible, a decline of -2.4%, compared to +0.4% in 2008 and +2.1% in 2007. 

Now we enter the 2010 campaign year with upward GDP movement for the second half of 2009 but climbing from a deep bottom of the recession. The stage is set for a narrative of recovery, but that narrative remains obscured by a stubborn unemployment rate and a preoccupation with an unpopular health care bill.