Technically, the recession has been over for nearly two years, since June 2009, but the job market has been agonizingly slow to recover. Now there are encouraging signs that may be changing.
The March unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, its lowest in two years, and the economy added 216,000 jobs, along with the 200,000-plus added in February, making those the strongest two months of hiring since the recession began in December 2007.
The unemployment rate has dropped a full percentage point over the past four months, making it the sharpest drop since 1983, when we were coming out of another bad recession.
The Associated Press notes that if hiring continues at this rate through the end of the year, the economy will have generated 2.5 million new jobs. While that's good, it's still not enough to make up for the 7.5 million jobs lost during the recession or employ the 13.5 million out of work.
The underemployment rate -- the percentage of people who are so discouraged that they have quit looking for work altogether and those who work part-time but want full-time jobs -- fell to 15.7 percent.
The unemployment rate may rise again, but for a good reason. As the job picture brightens, discouraged workers, who are not counted in the regular unemployment rate, may come flooding back into the job market, swelling the size of the workforce.
Employment shrank in construction, transportation and telecommunications; and after four months of layoffs, appears to have bottomed out in state government. But hiring in other sectors was more than healthy enough to offset that shrinkage plus the 15,000 layoffs by local governments.
More than anything the Republicans do, the economy will be the significant factor in whether Barack Obama is re-elected president. The jobs figures --"signs of real strength" -- left the president almost giddy.
At a visit to a UPS facility in the Washington suburbs, Obama said that making sure good jobs were available to any American who wants one "is the first thing I think about when I wake up every morning. It's the last thing I think about when I go to bed each night."
Hold that thought, Mr. President. The March numbers show we're getting there, but we're not there yet.
Dale McFeatters is a political analyst,his regular columns feature in the Analyst e-edition and monthly
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