Of course the addition of 200,000 jobs in December and a slight decline in unemployment are good news. But the economy has a long, long way to go. There are still 13 million unemployed. Millions more want to work but have stopped looking, which, according to the Labor Department, doesn't make them count among the jobless. Hundreds of thousands more are working part time and would like to work full time. Many who work full time make poverty wages.
Even with such "adjustments," unemployment of 8.5 percent is far above the historical average. Unemployment among blacks is 15 percent.
About a fourth of December's 200,000 job gain came in transportation and warehousing. That might signal a boom Christmas shopping season and a consumer rebound. But it could also mean the Labor Department's seasonal adjustment of the job figures went a little haywire. To make "apples to apples" comparisons from one month to the next, the government is supposed to adjust for the fact that retailers, UPS, Amazon and the like hire lots of part time help in December. But the math isn't perfect. Seasonal anamolies can still throw the data off.
Still, even the year-over-year data (which make seasonal variations irrelevant) look impressive. The economy added 1.6 million jobs from December 2010 to December 2011, according to the latest estimates. Some economists, however, believe this is also exaggerated. The job-count numbers are based on payroll samples via unemployment insurance reports. But those, too, are subject to error. We'll get a much better picture of 2011 next month, when the Labor Department trues up its job-growth with more complete payroll counts.