The Bureau of Labor Statistics just announced the unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January. Most forecasters thought the situation would be worse.
But a second, contradictory number also came out : the number of jobs dropped by 20,000.
Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute told me she got that number right. ("I've never gotten it exactly on, so it was an exciting morning for me," she deadpanned.)
Why the contradiction? The two numbers come from different surveys.
The BLS gets the number of jobs by surveying employers, asking them how many people they have on payroll, while the actual unemployment numbers come from the household survey, which asks people whether they have jobs and are looking.
Shierholz says it's hard to reconcile the two this time around but she and others tend to trust the payroll numbers more, because the survey is larger and thus more statistically reliable.
However you look at it, things are far better than January of a year ago when the economy lost a staggering 779,000 jobs.
"We are out of the dark days," she says. Still, we need to be adding at least 100,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth. And the numbers that came out today suggest things are basically flat.
Bonus Reading: The Jobs Hole.