What a difference a month makes

I welcome taunts about sounding a Pollyannaish note, but Austan Goolsbee’s comments this morning resonated a bit.

Don’t try telling White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee that the economy is in the midst of a ‘jobless recovery.’

When ABC’s Christiane Amanpour used that term with Goolsbee Sunday on “This Week,” his irritation was evident.

“OK, it is not a ‘jobless recovery.’ That is an incorrect phrase,” Goolsbee said testily. “After the last recession, in this comparable period post-recession, we had lost 100,000 jobs. We have added more than 200,000 jobs.”

“There’s a major difference between a jobless recovery and a very deep hole that we’re climbing out of,” the said the chief of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Look, the economy looks awfully weak. I’ve been writing about this constantly, hoping the larger discussion will shift, at least a little, away from what doesn’t matter (long-term debt reduction), and back towards what does matter (job creation and economic growth).

But a little context is in order. Just one month ago, the jobs picture was improving in a hurry. We’d just seen our best jobs report since the start of the Great Recession, and our best three-month stretch in more than five years.

As we learned a couple of days ago, this recent trend obviously didn’t last. May was genuinely awful, and there’s little reason for optimism in the near future. But the politics of this discussion are a little out of whack.

If a strong jobs report in April didn’t mean Republicans are doomed in 2012, a weak jobs report in May doesn’t mean President Obama is doomed, either. If encouraging data a month ago didn’t mean smooth sailing ahead, discouraging data a month later doesn’t mean a double-dip. If April’s numbers didn’t mean President Obama is a genius/hero, May’s numbers don’t mean he’s a failure.

The economy desperately needs a boost, and it’s likely the Republican austerity agenda will make matters worse. But one bad jobs report should not a panic make. Every conservative on the Sunday shows this morning boasting, “See? I told you so!” should have to answer a simple follow-up: “What were you saying a month ago when we saw our best job growth in a half-decade?”

The economy has created 783,000 jobs so far this year. It’s created 1.2 million jobs since October. Over the last 15 months, the private sector has created more than 2.1 million jobs.

This isn’t even close to good enough, and the most recent numbers felt like a punch to the gut. The jobs crisis remains very real, and the conservative drive to ignore it is frustrating beyond words. In a sane political environment, policymakers would be scrambling like mad to invest immediately in job creation, rather than pursue GOP goals of debt reduction and spending cuts that would make unemployment worse.

But the larger point here is avoiding panic after one bad month. If folks weren’t popping the champagne bottles a month ago, they should resist the urge to jump out the window now.

The smart move is to see the May numbers as a wake-up call that the economy still needs some help, not see the data as an excuse to panic.