Jobs Report Produces More Relief Than Celebration
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. When it comes to job creation, the U.S. economy has been in a rut. Now, in a moment, we'll hear from Americans who have been struggling to find work, but yesterday's jobs report suggests things might be changing a bit. Employers added far more jobs than expected, and the unemployment rate declined to its lowest point in more than four years.
Even so, the news produced more relief than celebration. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Before we talk to economists, let's go out in the real world, where people are looking for work. At Methodist Hospital in Houston, they're doing some hiring at their week-long job fair.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOB FAIR CONVERSATION)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tell me a little bit about your interests. So your background is medical, I see.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. My background, like you said, it's medical (unintelligible), but I've been all over the place.
GLINTON: Actually, they're doing a lot of hiring.
WILLIE FRENCH: We currently have just a little bit over 600 jobs that are posted on our career site.
GLINTON: Willie French is the head of what they call talent acquisition, at the Methodist Hospital System in Houston. French says because of oil and gas and health care, Houston has been luckier than other regions.
FRENCH: That has allowed the economy in Houston to really have a lag behind the slowdown that has occurred, and it looks like we're picking up steam.
GLINTON: That's Houston. What about the rest of the country? Now, it's time for the economists.
GARY BURTLESS: My name is Gary Burtless. I study labor economics and health economics at the Brookings Institution, in Washington.
GLINTON: Burtless says for much of the last four years, most jobs were mainly going to highly skilled workers. But, he says, this jobs report shows the whole economy is growing.
BURTLESS: The number of unemployed continues to shrink; and job gains entirely in the private sector continue to be fast enough so that we can be whittling down the problem of both long-term unemployment and regular unemployment.
GLINTON: Now, everyone says both those unemployment rates are still too high. But economist Dean Baker sees some pleasant surprises in February's jobs report. Here's one: The unemployment rate for workers without high school diplomas has fallen significantly.
DEAN BAKER: That was striking because we've tended to think that the economy's favoring people with more skills - college degrees and often, beyond. It seems that for whatever reason, the least educated workers are doing reasonably well. And I don't want to put too much on that. They're not doing great but you know, they're doing comparatively well in today's economy.
GLINTON: Finally, we turn to Bill Cheney, an economist with John Hancock Financial Services in Boston. Cheney's optimistic. He says it's unusual that all parts of the economy would see job growth. However, there's a "but."
BILL CHENEY: The "but" here is that we've had some relatively good news before, in this expansion, and it's petered out more than once. So while it's always good to be surprised to the upside, this isn't some brand-new story. It's not a game changer, in terms of how the economy is behaving.
GLINTON: All the economists I talked to say they're guardedly optimistic about the future. The guarded part comes because we don't know exactly what federal spending cuts could mean for the economy, in the upcoming months. So no champagne yet. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
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