Jobs picture improves, unemployment drops

There were modest expectations for the new jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in this case, the economy met them. A net total of 120,000 jobs were created in November, which is just about what economists and analysts said would happen. The same report showed the overall unemployment rate dropping from 9% to 8.6%.

As is always the case, there was a significant gap between the private and public sectors. Businesses added 140,000 jobs last month, while budget cuts forced the public sector to shed 20,000 jobs, which continues to be a major drag on the overall employment picture.

Republican policymakers, it’s worth noting, are eager to force more public-sector layoffs, making the jobs landscape worse on purpose, while Democrats have fought to do the opposite.

We’re still very much in the realm of relative good news. It’s heartening, for example, to see the unemployment drop to its lowest level since March 2009. What’s more, the job totals for both September and October were revised upwards by a combined 62,000 jobs, which is a fairly big revision.

The jobs crisis, however, isn’t even close to being over. Just to keep up with population growth, the economy should be adding over 150,000 jobs a month, and at this point, we haven’t even quite reached this standard.

Policymakers in Washington, in other words, would be making a tragic mistake if they saw the drop in the unemployment rate, dusted off their hands, and said, “Well, I guess we don’t need to worry about this anymore.”

That said, with a month remaining in 2011, we’ve now seen 1.45 million jobs created this year, which isn’t even close to good enough, but which is the strongest year for job creation since 2006. A total of 661,000 jobs have been created since July.

And with that, here’s the homemade chart I run on the first Friday of every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction — red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration.