The economic news was grim today: The U.S. economy added just 54,000 jobs in May, after logging an increase of 220,000 jobs each of the three months prior, and unemployment rose to 9.1 percent, from 9 percent in April. Ouch. Economist Paul Ashworth told The New York Times's Catherine Rampell that "the economy clearly just hit a brick wall," and said it was "almost as if it came to a complete standstill." Discouraging words, to be sure. But while a distinct flattening of growth, the number is at least positive. At least we didn't lose any jobs, right? Well, depending on who you listen to, today's number is either a bump in the road or the first sign of the financial apocalypse.
Slate's Andrew Leonard was as pessimistic as they come (for more pessimism, head to Marketplace). Aside from the fact that the economy didn't actually bleed jobs, he wrote, "everything else in this report is grim." The nation's economic recovery, he said, is "stalling out."
But the most distressing aspect of the May labor report is that it does not come as a surprise -- if anything, the only thing to be relieved about it is that the numbers weren't even worse. GDP growth has been slumping for months, and the rise in weekly claims for jobless benefits have been flashing an alarm signal since April. The trend is headed in the wrong direction, and now the tension over what happens next will immediately start to mount.
Felix Salmon was similarly dour, pointing out that the rest of the numbers that make up the nation's economic big picture aren't any more encouraging.
If you do want to go beyond the headlines, things look if anything even worse: the average duration of unemployment, for instance, just hit another new record at 39.7 weeks; a full 44% of all unemployed people have now been jobless for more than six months. And on top of that, it turns out that the government’s statisticians were overly optimistic for the past couple of months: the payrolls numbers for March and April were revised downwards by 39,000 jobs.
At The National Review, Jonathan Cohn didn't sound much more optimistic throughout his brief reaction piece, but he offered this consolation: "Temporary factors, including supply disruptions from the Japan earthquake and tsunami, were a major factor in the slowdown." But he said, overall, "The economy just isn't creating jobs quickly enough to make up for the huge losses of 2009 and 2010."
Robert Dye, of the PNC, was a little more hopeful in his comments to the Wall Street Journal, which canvased a bunch of economists on their reactions:
Some of the drag causing the soft-patch is temporary. Among those factors are higher oil prices earlier in the year, bad winter weather, spring floods and tornados, and the Japan disaster. Oil has already fallen to near $100 a barrel, weather can only be assumed to normalize, and Japan appears to be making good progress in getting production back up to plan by late summer/early fall.
Like we said, at least the country's not losing jobs. Let's look on the bright side, here, people. As soon as we can find it.