The Labor Department just reported that payrolls rose by 115,000 workers in April, a shockingly low number that signals continued serious economic weakness.
Economists had expected about 170,000 workers to be hired, an amount that itself would have done little more than kept the economy on pace for sluggish growth.
With the number coming in at only 115,000 – the smallest amount in six months – it appears the unemployment rate may be eventually headed back up and the slow 2.2 percent growth of the first quarter 2012 may be imperilled.
The rate declined for now to 8.1 percent, but that was at least partly because 342,000 people left the workforce. Normally the economy needs to create about 150,000 jobs a month to keep unemployment from rising. The decline in unemployment may also reflect that March hiring was revised upward from 120,000 to 154,000, while February’s was revised up to 259,000 from 240,000.
But the trend is clearly downward. This is a huge setback for the president, and if things don’t improve soon, a very bad omen for his reelection prospects. They’ll spin the 8.1 percent number at the White House, but they know they have a problem.
At this point in a recovery, the economy should be pumping out jobs. Something is very wrong, and the president, who today will be speaking in Virginia about relative trivia like the student loan rate, has no idea what to do about it.