Heading into today, most expected a fairly encouraging jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but few expected it to be this good.
The economy in February added 236,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate dropping to 7.7% from 7.9%. As is usually the case, austerity measures undermined the employment landscape -- America's private sector added 246,000 jobs last month, the public sector lost 10,000 jobs. (It'd be easy for Washington to improve the latter number and lower the unemployment rate, but congressional Republicans still won't allow it.) Update: the 7.7% jobless rate is the lowest in the U.S. since December 2008.
While we're accustomed to looking at jobs reports relative to where we've been -- figures only look heartening when compared to how dismal they were at the height of the Great Recession -- today's report is genuinely good news on its own terms. The 236,000 jobs created in February is the second best total in a year, and the seventh best month of the last five years. Glancing through the report, it was also encouraging to see improving data from the construction and housing sectors.
The stronger job creation comes immediately on the heels of January's tax increases. I'll look forward to Republicans explaining how this is even possible, or whether there's been some kind of tear in the space-time-economic continuum.
What's more, we've now created 2.23 million jobs overall in the last year, and 2.33 million in the private sector alone. All Congress has to do is stop punishing the country on purpose, and 2013 may very well deliver a more robust economic recovery.
Above you'll find the chart I run on the first Friday of every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction -- red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration.
Update: Here's another chart, this one showing monthly job losses/gains in just the private sector since the start of the Great Recession.