Two recent government reports are fueling hopes that the economic recovery is in fact well underway.
First, the Labor Department reported that economy added 243,000 private sector jobs in January, far more than expected.
The job growth was the fastest since last March and April. Before that, the last month with stronger hiring was March 2006.
According to revised numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. private sector has created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months.
Jobless Rate Decline in January
Second, the Labor Department reported that the January unemployment rate declined to 8.3 percent, down from 8.5 percent in December. The unemployment rate is now significantly lower than it was in January 2011, when it was 9.1 percent.
The unemployment rate has now fallen five months in a row, the first time that has happened since 1994.
"January's job growth was the strongest in nine months," U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said in releasing the report, noting that the national unemployment rate has fallen by 0.8 percent in the last five months as employment gains have remained constant.
Solis said that the accelerated growth in the U.S. labor force is seen across almost every industry. "More products are rolling off the assembly line marked 'made in the USA.'," she said.
"Our Economic Recovery is on Track"
"Our economic recovery is on track," Solis underlined.
Still, other economists, among them Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, remain concerned about the level of the nation's unemployment.
Bernanke has cautioned that the drop to 8.3 percent in January "understates" the continued weakness of the jobs market.
Long-Term Unemployment Goal
"Our goal of long-run unemployment rate of 5.2 - 6.0 percent is still quite far below 8.3 percent," Bernanke said last week during testimony before the Senate Budget Committee.
He noted that the unemployment rate does not reflect the significant number of people out of the labor force, or those forced to make do with just part-time work.
Kevin Logan, chief U.S. economist at HSBC, also maintains that the recent decline in the unemployment rate is giving the nation a false sense of improvement in the labor picture.
"A smaller percentage of the working-age population is participating in the labor force, compared to a few years ago," he says.
The unemployment rate can drop when more workers are employed and/or when workers stop looking for employment and are no longer counted as unemployed, he notes.
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