Jobs Report Shows Economy Headed in Right Direction

What a difference a year makes.

Today's employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showing that unemployment fell to 9.7 percent in January, provides fresh evidence that the labor market has stabilized and our nation has turned a corner.

While the economy still faces challenges as it recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, significant and sometimes overlooked progress has been made in the past twelve months.

Make no mistake, the U.S. economy isn't yet adding jobs and current unemployment levels are unacceptable. But as President Obama has said: to get out of a hole, the first thing you have to do is to stop digging. Our country has stopped digging.

We have come a long way since last January, when the economy lost 779,000 jobs in that month alone and recorded an average monthly job loss of 753,000 in the first three months of 2009. In the most recent three months of the Obama administration, the average monthly job loss was 35,000.

In addition to the moderation in job loss, the housing market has begun to stabilize, credit markets have opened up, and GDP growth has returned. During the final three months of 2009, the economy grew at a healthy rate of 5.7 percent.

The Recovery Act, which Congress passed in February 2009, has saved or created two million jobs and helped return the economy to growth in the second half of 2009. That legislation also softened the blow of the recession for millions of Americans through extension of unemployment insurance and support for health insurance premiums for laid-off workers.

The country faced the deepest, most protracted recession since the Great Depression. The personal toll in lost jobs, lost savings and lost homes is staggering. But the resilience of the American people throughout the recession has been equally staggering. American families have been pounded by this recession, but they keep getting up and they don't give up. And the recovery, albeit uneven in these early stages, has begun in earnest.

Today's employment report included some notable bright spots:

• The temporary help sector, an early indicator of progress in the labor market, added 52,000 positions in January, and has added 247,000 jobs since September.

• The manufacturing sector expanded for the first time in three years, adding 11,000 jobs.

• Average weekly hours have risen, probably driven by the increase in manufacturing hours, which have increased 1.2 hours since June. Average weekly earnings have also risen.

• The number of people working part time, but who would like full-time work fell by nearly 850,000 and reached its lowest level in a year. Combined with the average work week increasing, this is a sign that there are more full-time positions available.

Before a hearing today of the Joint Economic Committee, which I chair, Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Keith Hall testified: "The past three months, we've had essentially no change [in jobs], a dramatic improvement over earlier."

I agree.

Still, the damage done to the economy and to the earnings prospects of millions of individuals will take years to reverse. 8.4 million jobs have been lost since the recession began in December 2007. Among African Americans and Hispanics, the unemployment rates are 16.5 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively. Just to keep pace with population growth, it is estimated that the economy will need to add somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 job each month.

Our job in Congress is to build on the progress to date and enact policies that promote job creation and lay the groundwork for the next expansion which will lead to gains in employment, incomes and wealth. The task before us is immediate and urgent.

Almost 15 million Americans remain unemployed. More than 41 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months and more than half of those have been unemployed for more than a year -- since before President Obama took office. We know that the longer a person has been out of work, the harder it is to get back to work.

In the months ahead, my colleagues and I must take additional steps to unleash the job-creating power of the private sector. Small and new businesses are a large part of the economic engine that creates jobs in the country and we need to fuel that engine with expanded access to credit and additional tax incentives that promote hiring.

I recently introduced an employer tax credit that would enable small businesses with fewer than 100 employees to deduct 20 percent of the payroll costs when adding a new employee. Businesses with more than 100 employees are able to deduct 15 percent. A similar tax credit, though not well publicized at the time, helped to create jobs after the 1970's recession.

As policymakers consider new ideas to stimulate job creation, these proposals need to be targeted, efficient and effective. There is little margin for error. President Bush, after spending trillions on two wars and tax cuts for the wealthiest, bequeathed to the Obama administration a fiscal mess -- growing deficits and a massive debt. It's imperative that we make the necessary investments to boost job growth in the immediate term while also taking steps to bring our deficit down over time.

In the past 12 months, our economy has stopped hemorrhaging jobs. Now, it's time to grow.

Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney represents parts of Queens and Manhattan in the U.S. House of Representatives where she is the Chair of the Joint Economic Committee.