No one seemed to know quite what to expect before the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest jobs report this morning. Because the report was compiled with data from mid-January, when omicron variant infections were peaking, projections ranged from a gain of 250,000 jobs to a loss of 400,000.
The economy gained a surprise 467,000 jobs in January, and the unemployment rate stayed relatively flat, rising slightly to 4 percent from 3.9 percent, according to Friday's monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report also revised the number of jobs added in December, which had previously been reported as 199,000. The actual number was 510,000.
The Biden White House this week invested a fair amount of time warning everyone that this jobs report was likely to look pretty ugly. The warnings came with an associated explanation: Even if the economy lost jobs in January, it would be a Covid-related fluke, not a reflection of a broader economic downturn.
It now appears those efforts were unnecessary.
Indeed, today's data not only exceeded expectations, the report also paints an encouraging bigger picture. Last month's initial tally for December appeared to be off at the time, and those suspicions proved correct: Job totals from November and December were both revised up, adding a whopping 709,000 previously unreported new jobs — on top of the 467,000 jobs created in January.
What's more, the numbers also looked encouraging on the rising labor force and permanent job losses. All told, the U.S. economy has now gained back 87 percent of its pandemic job losses — and it's happened faster than any thought possible a year ago.
Best of all, every February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes revised totals for the entirety of the previous year. Some months from 2021 were revised up, while others down, but the overall net effect was heartening: We thought the economy added 6.4 million jobs in President Joe Biden's first year, but we now know the actual number was more than 6.6 million.
As for the political context, over the course of the first three years of Donald Trump's term — when the then-Republican president said the United States' economy was the greatest in the history of the planet — the economy created roughly 6.5 million jobs. This includes all of 2017, 2018, and 2019.
According to the latest tally, in 2021, the U.S. economy created more than 6.6 million jobs — more than the combined total of Trump's first three years.
For many years, I ran a chart at the bottom of posts about the monthly jobs reports, but the job losses at the start of the pandemic were so severe, it's rendered the image largely meaningless. I'm still retooling it in the hopes of making it useful again.