Several pieces of good news about jobs and the economy have been released in the last few days:
- The number of Americans filing for initial unemployment benefits reached its lowest level since March 2008.
- The business activity index of the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank jumped from 7.2 to 10.2 on a sharp increased in factory orders and shipments. Hours worked by existing employees increased indicating increased demand that, if sustained, should translate into additional hiring.
- The Commerce Department reported that housing starts rose 1.5% in January, beating economists’ estimates.
Jim Awad, managing director of Zephyr Management in New York said of the new numbers: “"Everything is stronger than expected. Barring any unforeseen problems from Europe it appears we're in a self-sustaining cycle of growth.”
Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania added "The numbers add to the belief that the economy is shifting gears. There is just no number that is giving us a whole lot of trouble, except for consumer spending."
This set of new numbers may signal that February will be another month of jobs gains with the possibility that the national unemployment rate will fall under the current 8.3% rate. Let’s hope that is the case.
The improving economy/job picture is causing real problems for Republicans who bet the election on high unemployment and an economy in or near a second recession. One of the reasons we are seeing Republicans latch on to the contraception/religious freedom controversy may be that they hope to shift the election debate away from jobs and the economy onto what they think will be a more winnable topic—religious freedom. Democrats must make the argument about contraception, not religious freedom, if they are to avoid losing ground they are gaining from the positive job/economy news.
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