Hope for jobs: The economy held up in a month of uncertainty
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The economy created 155,000 jobs last month and maintained its 7.8 percent unemployment level, despite the drum-beating and nervousness about whether the government would act at December's end on the fiscal cliff.
The numbers are not evidence of extraordinary performance, or a sign of impending collapse. They weren't bad, but they also weren't good in terms of long-term recovery. The figures could have been better if the White House and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, hadn't been fiddling with critical pieces of the financial situation past New Year's Eve. In doubt throughout the month were taxation rates, potential major cuts to government spending and even, through the debt ceiling argument, the government's ability to pay its bills, borrow and prevent its credit rating from being downgraded.
The jobs report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics could be called modestly good news. Better news was the auto industry's report that new vehicle sales were up in December by 9 percent and were the best annual sales in five years, up 13 percent over 2011. President Barack Obama had campaigned heavily on the wisdom of his rescue of that industry, as opposed to Republican nominee Mitt Romney's relative indifference to its plight in spite of his family and regional background.
Looking ahead, Washington revealed in its partial decision-making at the turn of the year that it intends more political and financial hijinks over the next few months. Potential major automatic budget cuts -- the sequester -- loom again before March, having only been postponed, not resolved, so far. Republicans have signalled an intention to make an issue again of raising the authorized national debt level. Mr. Obama has said he won't negotiate on that question again, citing the damage that the political wrangling wreaked the last time.
Fortunately, based on December's evidence, it may be that the economy's ability to continue to create jobs, albeit slowly, may not depend on what takes place in the Washington political clown show.
First Published January 8, 2013 12:00 am