McFeatters: Unemployment rate dips, in spite of Congress

A pedestrian walks by a "now hiring" sign A pedestrian walks by a "now hiring" sign that is posted in the window of a Chase bank branch in San Rafael, Calif., in January. The government’s February employment report released March 8 was filled with mostly encouraging details. The unemployment rate is now at its lowest level in four years. (Jan. 4, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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The unemployment rate dropped in February to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent the previous month, the lowest level in four years. Better yet, the U.S. economy added a robust 236,000 jobs, suggesting the economy can survive whatever Congress throws at it as the lawmakers lurch from one budget crisis to the next.

The unemployment rate dropped for the elementary reason that 170,000 more people are working while the size of the workforce declined by 130,000. And Americans on the sidelines are hardly flooding back into the job market. The percentage of Americans working or looking for work last month dropped to 63.5 percent, matching a 30-year low, the Associated Press observed.

The underemployment rate, which represents part-timers who want full time work and those who have simply quit looking, fell to 14.3 percent, its lowest level since January 2009. Some analysts say it provides a truer picture of the job market.

Daniel Gross, global business editor for Newsweek Daily Beast, writes: "Compared with a year ago, there are 1.966 million more people with payroll jobs. They're working about the same number of hours, but at slightly higher wages, up 2.1 percent from February 2012. These gains aren't nearly good enough to recover the losses suffered from the Great Recession, but they represent real progress."

Enough progress that the economy may survive the economic uncertainty that Congress produces in abundance: the sequester, reducing government spending by $44 billion between March 1 and Sept. 30; a pending battle over renewing a temporary measure, set to expire March 27, to fund the government this year; a possible battle over another increase in the debt ceiling; questions about the cost of the Affordable Care Act as it begins to go into effect; and the general uncertainly brought on by partisan feuding.

Certainly, the "big government" that Republicans insist President Barack Obama espouses has been more of a hindrance than a help in putting America back to work.

While the private sector was adding 246,000 jobs in February, the public sector cut 10,000. Newsweek notes that since the spring of 2010, the private sector has created 6.35 million jobs; the public sector has cut 1.5 million jobs.

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Those figures should give the lie to the charge that Obama is a socialist. If he is, he's a very bad one.

Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.

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