A surge in hiring in January cheered the White House today while Republicans dismissed the upturn as insufficient.
The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent — the lowest level since February 2009 — one month after President Barack Obama took office. The economy created 243,000 net new jobs.
The White House quickly put out a statement updating the numbers as Obama prepared to speak this morning about the economy and his latest proposal to aid veterans.
“Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” White House Economic Adviser Alan Krueger said. “It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the recession that began at the end of 2007. Most importantly, we need to extend the payroll tax cut and continue to provide emergency unemployment benefits through the end of this year and take the additional steps that President Obama proposed in his State of the Union address to create an economy built to last.”
House GOP leaders reacted by saying the recovery is still slower than following previous recessions — and that Obama should get the blame.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said there are “flickers of hope” that “are certainly welcome” but that “our point is very simple: We can do better.”
Boehner, House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, and others at a briefing noted a 2009 chart prepared by the Obama administration predicting unemployment would not rise above 8 percent if the president’s economic stimulus law was passed.
Instead, the Republicans noted, the unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 36 consecutive months.
“By a technical definition of a professional economist, this economy is in recovery. By historic standards, it is the slowest, weakest recovery in the post-Depression era,” Hensarling said.
“The president’s team is going to trot out their happy faces today. But the American people are going to say, ‘Not so fast.’ First of all, we still feel worse than we did four years ago. We still have 5 million more Americans that are unemployed than we did a year ago,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas).
Two reporters asked Boehner about the negative tenor of the press conference given that the economic news was relatively positive.
“What I’m suggesting to you today is that we can do better,” Boehner said. “The American people are still asking the question: Where are the jobs? And while the unemployment rate is down slightly and a few more Americans are at work, we still have millions of Americans that are looking for work. If the president would work with us, there are millions of Americans who could be at work.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also minimized the report. “These numbers cannot hide the fact that President Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “We can do better.”