February Jobs Report: Surprise!

It’s Jobs Report Friday, and the February numbers, expected to show a net gain of 160,000 jobs with steady unemployment, instead showed 236,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate dropping to 7.7%. These were the largest monthly gains since last February. Gains were posted in nearly every private-sector category; government employment dropped modestly by 10,000 jobs.

It wasn’t all good news: the January jobs increase was adjusted downward by 38,000 (with a smaller upward adjustment for December). And despite the unemployment rate being the lowest since December of 2008 (!), the workforce participation rate remains stagnant.

Overall, the news was good enough to spur talk of a stock sell-off in anticipation of a possible relaxation of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve Board. It will be interesting to see how Republicans spin the numbers: perhaps they will say the improvements were a joyful private-sector anticipation of the public-sector spending cuts created by the sequester! You never know what these birds will come up with next. But it’s not a good morning for Peggy Noonan, whose Friday column lectured Barack Obama for letting the jobs situation deteriorate while he played his budget games.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.