U.S. employment rose by a meager 36,000 jobs in January, far less than expected, as severe snow storms slammed large parts of the nation, but the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since April 2009.
The increase in nonfarm payrolls reported by the Labor Department on Friday was a quarter of the 145,000 increase that economists had expected.
But there were sharp differences in the information contained in the two surveys the Labor Department uses to generate the employment report.
David Indiviglio provides a useful and comprehensive look at the overall numbers. He summarizes his detailed account:
What's the big takeaway from this report? The labor market recovery is still moving very slowly. Just 36,000 net jobs were created and only 50,000 for the private sector. Those are very weak numbers. So beware of politicians and pundits claiming that the big drop to 9.0% suggests that jobs are suddenly growing at a rapid pace. There's little evidence to suggest that. At best, it's possible that more part-time and temporary workers are finding permanent, full-time employment. That might be something, but it's not much. There are still over 20 million Americans who want a job, but can't find one.
It'd be a bit cynical and dyspeptic to argue that today's numbers are bad news. Let's just be cautious about trumpeting the jobs report as unvarnished good news. It's not.