Mixed news: The economy is better but problems remain

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics' U.S. employment report for May showed an increase of 175,000 jobs during the month. It also showed an increase in the unemployment rate from 7.5 percent to 7.6 percent.

The rise in the rate is attributed to new entries and re-entries into the workforce. That would be a positive sign, reflecting hope by these prospective workers that they will find jobs in a strengthening economy. The May job creation total is slightly above what it takes to absorb normal monthly entries into the employment market.

President Barack Obama's administration was quick to claim the May figures as part of an overall recovery of the economy from the recession that started in 2007, noting that 6.9 million jobs have been added over the past 39 months.

In general, it is probably true to say that America's economic climate is brightening. The stock market has risen, keeping America's 1 percent rich smiling. Automakers, led by Ford and Chrysler, sold 1.44 million new vehicles in May, up an encouraging 8.2 percent from May 2012 sales.

At the same time, there is a dark cloud hovering over the total picture in the form of the Federal Reserve Bank's continuing practice of what it enigmatically calls "quantitative easing." Since September last year, the Fed has printed some $85 billion in new money every month and used it to buy bonds and other facilities from private banks, putting into the banks' hands now $765 billion that they are supposed to loan out to stimulate the economy.

This process is clearly inflationary, but inflation has stayed low, so that means either that the banks are sitting on it, speculating with it -- perhaps in the rising stock market -- or that the quantitative easing money is going overseas. That interpretation would be supported by the fact that America's trade deficit rose 8.5 percent from March to April, by $40.3 billion. That has to be borrowed from China, Japan, Europe or the Arabs.

Americans should like May's job figures but not imagine for one minute that the country's economic woes are anywhere near their end.

opinion_editorials


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