What in heck happened? How could no one have expected Friday’s miserable jobs report?
The news, in case you missed it: Employers in December added just 74,000 jobs, well below the 200,000 everyone had projected.
The markets seem unfazed – the Dow was down less than half-a-percentage point by mid-afternoon Friday – but shock and confusion dominated the mood.
It was all especially surprising given that ADP only on Wednesday reported that employers had added 238,000 positions in December.
Poor weather in December was supposed to have played a role in the dismal figures, which, if really true, means January should see more of the same, thanks to that polar vortex.
But it was all still an unexpected blow, especially after months of economic reports showing healthier consumer spending, spikes in auto sales, a booming stock market and the revival of the housing market.
Could it be that Friday’s report was just a blip, an aberration from all of the better reports we’ve been hearing?
Perhaps. The numbers, to be sure, were preliminary and the government regularly issues updated adjustments that are sometimes significantly higher than its initial statistics.
But perhaps what these figures also might suggest is that policymakers should more carefully heed the words of U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue, who just earlier in the week delivered his annual State of American Business report.
Chamber speeches don’t typically generate a lot of press coverage, in part because they generally consist of not much that’s news. But Donohue did make a few headlines in his remarks about the chamber’s decision to stop pushing for a repeal of Obamacare.
Now, with the December unemployment figures in, some of his other remarks would seem to be as relevant.
He opened on an upbeat note: “I’m pleased to report that the state of American business is improving and our economy is gaining strength,” he said.
OK, so now I’m sure he regrets having said that. But cut the guy a break. No one was anticipating what we saw from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday.
In any case, Donohue quickly put the focus of his remarks where they need to be.
“Misguided government policies have … slowed our growth and cost Americans a lot of jobs and raises. We must fix these mistakes and not repeat them going forward,” he said.
“We’ll push for government reform to modernize a regulatory process that hasn’t been updated since Harry Truman was president,” Donohue said.
In the year ahead, he said, the chamber plans to advance a “jobs, growth and opportunity” agenda that will include expanding trade, producing more domestic energy and improving the nation’s infrastructure.
There was even more on Donohue’s list for the year, which you can read here, but nothing as important as what he was saying about jobs.
Friday’s report only underscored that. Now let’s hope the message gets through.