Revisions and all, we are 300,000 jobs richer than we were a month ago. There are plenty of blog reactions you can read to this report, all of which tease out the different cyclical and structural aspects, short and long-term implications, much better than I could. Check out Mark Thoma’s links for a smattering.
My own reaction, yesterday morning, was cynical as ever- “great news for Barack Obama!” As I read my Twitter feed over breakfast, I particularly enjoyed Neil Irwin’s tweet: “that sound you hear is champagne corks in the West Wing.” Indeed, Obama’s Intrade odds jumped 1.5% to 57%, the highest level since August, when the Europe news was getting worse. OK, let’s leave that cynical reaction aside.
I had a reality check this morning, courtesy of the inner city of Baltimore, while driving to a church men’s breakfast in the DC area. I was riding with two fellow congregants from Luther Place Memorial Church- one an old-timer who is something of a social justice junkie, the second a community activist in Baltimore, who works to transform vacant lots to community spaces. The old-timer began to ask for our reactions to the jobs report. Before I could say my piece about it helping Obama but not being good enough for a real recovery, the activist jumped in and said, “I don’t pay attention to that stuff. Where I work, the unemployment rate is 50 to 70 percent. These reports just aren’t relevant to them.”
We immediately moved to discussing Mitt Romney’s remarks, and agreed about how out of touch he seems by saying he’s not concerned about the very poor. Ed the activist knows that way more than 5% of Americans are very poor, and no, the safety net is not catching them.
We didn’t get into the politics of it much deeper than that. But it’s clear to me that there’s a simple fact people like Mitt Romney will never comprehend, and that most of us progressives too easily forget (especially when we get “good” economic news). Our economy has been leaving many behind for some time now. The great recession has made things worse, and there is no such thing as an economic recovery in places like inner city Baltimore.
This whole conversation was underscored well by a reflection from Richard Rohr, read toward the end of this breakfast (and it was quite serendipitous- our reader opened to the book to a random page). It was titled “Who are the poor?” and it read,
“The Gospel sounds very different to a man with a full stomach than it does to a man with an empty stomach…that’s why Jesus said the Gospel had to first be preached to the poor.”
When we hear the jobs report, with our full stomachs, we have all manner of reactions that will inherently be divorced from the reality that the poor experience. Yes, the January jobs report matters. Cynically, it helps Obama on the margins, which is good, because he is way better than the other guy. But, jobs reports like these are not good enough.
This is true in the limited sense that we are far from full employment, which we rightly hear from Mark Thoma, Dean Baker, et al. However, this jobs report is more importantly not good enough when read by those with empty stomachs. Unfortunately, with our current economic structure, no jobs report will be Gospel or good news to them.
The first Friday of every month this year, we will hear a (hopefully) six-digit number. Pundits and economists will weigh in, good and bad. Let’s just all keep in mind that a jobs report sounds very different to a man with a full stomach than it does to a man with an empty stomach. We should all work for an economy in which jobs reports can be truly good news for the swelling ranks of the poor.