December’s job creation figures, a depressing 74,000, were the weakest in nearly three years and underlined the continuing ills of the economy and the urgency of President Barack Obama’s desire to address poverty and economic mobility.
Analysts had predicted a jobs gain of as much as 200,000, and the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent to 6.7 percent, but that drop, unfortunately, reflects more people leaving the labor market rather than an improving employment picture. According to Friday’s report, the rate of Americans participating in the job market now stands at 62.8 percent, the lowest since 1978.
To add to the misery, federal unemployment benefits ended for 1.3 million Americans last month and Congress has yet to extend them. Coincidentally, a new report based on lawmakers’ disclosures of wealth reveals that half of the 535 are millionaires.
To add insult to injury, China reported that it has now surpassed the United States as a world trader. Its foreign trade reached $4.16 trillion in 2013, up 7.6 percent over 2012, passing the $4 trillion mark for the first time.
So what should the United States do about the persistently weak economy? The president may present some ideas in his State of the Union message, scheduled for Jan. 28, although Republicans in Congress can almost be counted on to block anything he will propose.
More of the same in U.S. economic policy, which is likely in a midterm election year, does not offer much promise. Quantitative easing, under which the Federal Reserve has been dumping $85 billion in new money per month into the economy, has led to larger balances for the banks, but not significant job creation.
The lousy December job figures should serve as a loud bell sounding a warning to the administration and Congress.