Four long years after his first presidential oath of office, Barack Obama's second term begins in an uncomfortably familiar place. The U.S. unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, according to this morning's BLS report, the exact same number as on that cold, historic day in January 2009.
Like a final chapter that sums up all the themes of a long book, December's jobs report was practically archetypal. After averaging just over 150,000 net new jobs per month 2011 and just over 150,000 monthly jobs in 2012, we added 155,000 net new jobs last month. Practically nothing changed -- not the unemployment rate (7.8 percent), nor the number of unemployed people (12.2 million), nor the number of long-term unemployed (4.2 million), nor the employment-population ratio (58.6 percent).
There's an instinct to call these sort of jobs reports "boring." They might be for the journalists paid to write about them each month. But the better words for the real stakeholders -- the unemployed, and all workers whose wages would be get a boost from full(er) employment -- might be "deeply frustrating." Just because job creation is thermostatic doesn't mean we should be resigned to the number on the thermostat. One hundred and fifty thousand jobs isn't the number we deserve, but, at a moment when deficit showdowns have replaced a viable jobs policy, it's the number we've settled for.
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