Jobs report: Less apocalyptic than usual

How do you find a silver lining in the news that the economy lost more than half a million jobs for the sixth straight month? It's not easy.

By Andrew Leonard
Published May 8, 2009 2:05PM (EDT)

539,000 more jobs, gone. You have to look pretty hard to see any good news in the April jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the sixth straight month, non-farm payrolls dropped by more than a half a million. Even worse, the BLS revised the numbers for February and March upward (651,000 to 681,000 for February, and 663,000 to 699,000 for March.) And April's figures would be in line with previous months if it weren't for 72,000 temporary government hires in preparation for the 2010 census. The unemployment rate also notched up another chunk, to 8.9 percent -- the worst figure in 25 years.

Still, unless April's numbers end up getting a major revision higher, the numerical decline will be the smallest in six months, and the unemployment rate isn't rising as fast as it was earlier in the year. That puts the jobs report in line with other economic indicators suggesting that the pace of economic contraction is slowing.

And that's the kind of good news that Wall Street appears to like, these days. It's all a matter of perspective. If you had told me a year ago that the headlines on the front page of the Wall Street Journal would include a prediction from the Federal Reserve that the banking industry might lose $600 billion in the next two years, a report that the economy had lost over half a million jobs for the sixth straight month and the news that AIG had lost only $4.4 billion in the first quarter of 2009, I don't think I would have imagined that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would have jumped up 130 points in the first half hour of trading -- to its highest point in two months.

Good times.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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