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As 2023 got underway, job growth soared, jobless rate improved

The last time the unemployment rate was this low, we hadn’t yet landed on the moon and Woodstock was still a few months away.


Expectations heading into this morning showed projections of around 187,000 new jobs having been added in the United States in January. As it turns out, according to the new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the preliminary tally suggests the domestic job market did far better than that. CNBC reported this morning:

The employment picture started off 2023 on a stunningly strong note, with nonfarm payrolls posting their strongest gain since July 2022. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 517,000 for January, above the Dow Jones estimate of 187,000. The unemployment rate fell to 3.4% vs. the estimate for 3.6%.

If that monthly total sounds extraordinary, it is: 517,000 jobs not only far exceeded expectations, it’s also the highest total since last summer.

What’s more, while the unemployment rate isn’t my favorite metric, it’s worth noting for context that in January 2021, when President Joe Biden was inaugurated, the unemployment rate was 6.3%. Now, it’s 3.4% — a level the United States did not reach at any point throughout the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. The last time the jobless rate was this low was May 1969. (We hadn't yet landed on the moon and Woodstock was still a few months away.)

And while we’re at it, let’s also note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ new data revises the totals from all of 2022: We originally thought the U.S. economy created 4.5 million jobs last year. The new, revised total shows an even higher number: 4.81 million jobs. By any fair measure, that’s an extraordinary total.

I’m mindful of the chatter about whether the economy is in a recession, but by any sane measure, these are not recession-like conditions.

As for the politics, let’s circle back to previous coverage to put the data in perspective. Over the course of the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency — when the Republican said the United States’ economy was the greatest in the history of the planet — the economy created roughly 6.4 million jobs, spanning all of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

According to the latest tally, the U.S. economy has created over 12 million jobs since January 2021 — nearly double the combined total of Trump’s first three years.

In recent months, Republicans have responded to developments like these by pretending not to notice them. I have a hunch GOP officials will keep the trend going today.

For some additional context, consider job growth by year over the past decade:

2013: 2.3 million

2014: 3 million

2015: 2.7 million

2016: 2.3 million

2017: 2.1 million

2018: 2.3 million

2019: 2 million

2020: -9.3 million

2021: 6.7 million

2022: 4.8 million

In early 2021, such a turnaround would’ve been very difficult to believe. And yet, here we are.

This post is a revised version of our related earlier coverage.