Quick Takes

* It’s jobs Friday. So that means it’s time to head over to Jared Bernstein’s blog to read about todays report.

Payrolls were up 242,000 last month and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9% in another solid jobs report from the the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job gains over the prior two months were revised up slightly, adding 30,000, such that the average monthly gains over the past year were well above 200,000 (223K, to be precise). The closely watched labor force participation rate ticked up to 62.9%, as over 500,000 entered (or re-entered) the labor force, another sign of improving conditions.

Other signs, however, were more moderate. Average weekly hours fell by two-tenths of an hour, a significant drop, driven by the ongoing weakness in extraction industries (as well as utilities). Hourly wages, after adding a strong 12 cents in January, fell 3 cents in February (this is a common pattern with “high frequency” data-a strong month followed by a weaker one). The combination led weekly earnings to fall $6 (-0.7%) in February, though they’re up 1.6% over the past year.

Note: when you see “extraction industries,” think oil and gas. This is a perfect example of the interconnectedness of our economy. Good news: gas prices are still low. Bad news: workers in those industries are having their hours cut back.

* If you work for Costco, you probably just got a raise.

Costco Wholesale Corp. will lift its minimum wage for the first time in nine years, by a $1.50 an hour, as the labor market tightens and competitors start giving workers a raise.

The second-largest U.S. retailer will start paying at least $13-to-$13.50 an hour, up from $11.50-to-$12 an hour, the company said Thursday in a conference call with analysts.

* Vice President Joe Biden has written an op-ed in the NYT about Senate Republicans vowing to obstruct the President’s Supreme Court nominee.

As I write this, nearly all Republican senators have said that they will refuse to consider any nominee — sight unseen. At a time when we need to reduce the gridlock in our politics, this would extend Congress’s dysfunction to the Supreme Court — preventing it from functioning as our founders intended for a year and possibly longer.

* James Fallows has written a fascinating piece for the current edition of the Atlantic titled: How America is Putting Itself Back Together. He and his wife, Deb, have been traveling all across America to visit “cities that had suffered some kind of economic, political, environmental, or other hardship during the financial crash or earlier, and whose response was instructive in either good or bad ways.” Here is how he summarizes what they learned:

As a whole, the country may seem to be going to hell. That jeremiad view is a great constant through American history. The sentiment is predictably and particularly strong in a presidential-election year like this one, when the “out” party always has a reason to argue that things are bad and getting worse. And plenty of objective indicators of trouble, from stagnant median wages to drug epidemics in rural America to gun deaths inflicted by law-enforcement officers and civilians, support the dystopian case.

But here is what I now know about America that I didn’t know when we started these travels, and that I think almost no one would infer from the normal diet of news coverage and political discourse. The discouraging parts of the San Bernardino story are exceptional—only five other U.S. cities are officially bankrupt—but the encouraging parts have resonance almost anywhere else you look…What is true for this very hard-luck city prevails more generally: Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America, but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see.

* Frankly…these are the kinds of stories that blow my mind. But they are also strangely humbling and uplifting.

By pushing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by measuring the farthest galaxy ever seen in the universe. This surprisingly bright infant galaxy, named GN-z11, is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past, just 400 million years after the Big Bang.

“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see GN-z11 at a time when the universe was only three percent of its current age,” explained principal investigator Pascal Oesch of Yale University.

* Finally, you’re going to want to watch this video of Brent Nathan Brown introducing President Obama. Brown identifies himself as a Republican who never voted for Obama – and yet credits the President with saving his life. He’s not exaggerating.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .