The two headline numbers in today's April jobs report seem to point in opposite directions.
The number of jobs in America rose by 290,000: Sounds good!
The nation's unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent: Sounds bad!
In fact, this weird juxtaposition of trends is predictable, and may well continue for several months. It's the latest sign that that the economy is improving, but the situation is still pretty bad.
The unemployment rate measures the number of of people who are looking for work but can't find it -- not the total number of people who are out of work.
So as the economy starts to improve, and more companies start hiring, people who had previously given up on looking for work start trying to find a job again, and the unemployment rate rises.
The economy lost some 8 million jobs over the past few years, which suggests that there's a big pool of potential workers who will re-enter the labor force as things improve. The Fed expects the unemployment rate to stay above 9 percent for the rest of the year.
Still, numbers in today's jobs report are promising. More than 200,000 jobs were created in the private sector during April. The government also made upward revisions to its estimates of job creation in Februay and March. Since December, more than half a million new jobs have been created, mostly in the private sector.