Job creation figures for January, released on Friday, continue to present a depressing picture of prospects for the U.S. economy.
A pallid total of 113,000 jobs were created in January, on the heels of an even weaker 74,000 in December. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent to 6.6 percent, which is good, but it reflects more people dropping out of the labor force in the face of dim prospects.
Those new jobs do not even cover the number of new entries into the job market each month. At that rate of increase it would take years just to get back to pre-2008, pre-recession levels of employment.
Congress has not extended emergency jobless benefits, due mostly to Republican opposition. If there were any truth to some of the looney arguments in Washington for allowing the benefits to end on Dec. 28 — namely that such aid discourages the unemployed from seeking work — then more people should have been driven into the job market in January. But they were not.
The economy also has to be rattled by the fact that another government shutdown is threatened by another debt ceiling crisis. House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said it won’t happen, but his leadership was demonstrated again to be weak by his admission Thursday that, due to opposition by Tea Party Republicans, immigration reform is unlikely to occur in 2014.
Meanwhile, nothing elsewhere offers much in the way of prospects for improvement of the U.S. economy. Foreign markets, in particular the “Fragile Five” — Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey — could see U.S. investment dollars retreat as the Federal Reserve reduces its program of quantitative easing. And Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has seen its bond rating fall to junk status.
Hope in the spring (next month, officially) always reigns supreme, but it’s hard to be hopeful based on this unpromising situation.