Editorial: A pleasant surprise

Unemployment report

Finally, we have a monthly jobs report with no holes in it. The December figures are almost entirely good news.

Usually there has been a catch in the statistics, typically a jobless percentage that looks better than it really is because so many otherwise employable people have simply given up looking for work, and if you're not trying, the feds don't count you.

But the number of discouraged workers dropped below 1 million, to 945,000, down from 1.3 million a year ago.

Thus, the "underemployment rate," those out of work and those who can only find part-time employment, dropped from 15.6 percent to 15.2 percent, the lowest since February 2009.

The two most politically sensitive figures were also good:

n An overall 8.5 percent jobless rate, also the lowest since February 2009, down from 8.6 percent in November. It was the fourth straight month it has fallen.

n Importantly, the economy added a net of 200,000 jobs, with gains across the board in manufacturing, health care, transportation and retail, and even the hard-hit construction industry added 17,000 workers.

Only state and local governments reported jobs losses. The federal government actually added 2,000 employees.

The Obama administration had to be delighted, even a little surprised by the new numbers. Analysts had been predicting the unemployment rate would actually rise to 8.7 percent and job creation would be an anemic 155,000. The president was his usual restrained self: "We are moving in the right direction."

That direction is important to his political hopes. No president since World War II has been re- elected amid a jobless rate of more than 8 percent. But it has been close. At this point in his first term, President Ronald Reagan faced an 8.3 percent rate.

To paraphrase the title of the '60s novel, "Been down so long anything under 8 percent looks up to me."

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