WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy is producing jobs at an ever-faster pace, reinforcing President Bush's arguments that tax cuts were needed to stoke the nation's engine of growth.
After weeks of frustratingly weak job-approval numbers, followed by the Dubai ports fiasco that threatened to drive Bush's numbers deeper into the hole, the spectacular jobs report came out just at the moment when he and the country needed a dose of good news.
The Labor Department data showed that businesses created 243,000 new jobs in February, beating all of the consensus estimates by more than 40,000 jobs and giving the stock market something to cheer about. It also gives the president a reprieve from the bad news that has plagued his second term.
Though it draws very little news interest these days, Bush's job record is actually quite good. Some 2.1 million new jobs have been created in the last 12 months, nearly 5 million since August 2003. We've had 30 consecutive months of job growth. Nationally, the jobless rate was little changed at 4.8 percent, as more people return to the job market as a result of increasing demand for workers.
"These employment gains indicate strong first-quarter economic growth, in the range of 4 percent," said economist Peter Morici at the University of Maryland's School of Business.
The stunning jobs data is the latest evidence that, despite public doubts about the economic health of the country, the U.S. economy is not only getting stronger but showing remarkable staying power. All the gloom-and-doom stories last year about the economy slowing down in 2006 look rather silly right now, and few economists are flatly predicting a slowdown in the near future.
The professional punditry in this town can't be happy about this turn of events. The Dubai story, after the Arab-owned company divested itself from the ports deal, has all but evaporated from debate, shifting attention back to the issues Republicans want to run on this year. As the midterm-elections cycle gets under way, 4 percent growth and an expanding job market is exactly what Bush and the Republicans need most. If this economic trend continues through 2006, it will be difficult for Democrats to paint a dreary picture of America heading into the abyss.
Indeed, the jobs story struck hard at the Democrats' biggest domestic-policy weakness -- their love affair with higher taxes that would grind the American jobs machine to a halt.
The conventional wisdom in Washington states that the Democrats are headed for an election sweep in the fall. But I think such predictions are overblown right now.
Here are a few reasons why things may not work out as Democrats hope.