A lucky 7.7%...Or Not

March 8, 2013- Back in mid February, I browsed through a number of client “success stories,” short reports of JVS clients who might qualify for inclusion in Los Angeles city or county brochures. Internally, we were also looking for a few candidates to film and present as Inspiration Award recipients at our annual Strictly Business L.A. gathering. Our caseworkers and job developers typically submit some stirring and heartwarming clients, and this year’s batch was no different. There was Nicholas who came to us from Arizona, was jobless for several months and had fallen into depression before eventually getting project management training and landing a well-paying job at a university.  There was Danielle, the former entertainment industry worker who was out of work so long that she who faced eviction before finding new employment at a real estate firm.   Marvin, the former veteran, found employment through another JVS Veterans First client. On and on it went. Clients who nearly hit bottom finding a way – with JVS’ help – to get to a better place.

We submitted our list and selected our three 2013 Strictly Business Inspiration Award winners (we’ll tell you more about them here in JVSWorks later). February came and went and we learned JVS had won the top $150,000 prize for raising the most dollars – out of more than 70 competing nonprofits – in the 2013 JobRaising Challenge. That was a good day.

The glow was barely off the victory when the Department of Labor published the monthly jobs report. More good news. Sort of. Unemployment is down to 7.7% in February with 236,000 non agriculture jobs added. That’s the six straight month that unemployment has been under 8% and the lowest level since December of 2008.

Want some more positive spin? Take it away Mr. Acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris:

"The economy is poised for even more significant growth, but Congress should not hold it back. We can't cut our way to prosperity. Deficit reduction alone is not an economic strategy or a jobs plan. It's time for members of both parties in Congress to work together on a balanced deficit reduction plan and invest in the middle class — the engine of America's economic growth.”

(Note the not-so-subtle nod to the effects of sequestration. Sorry. Back to Mr Harris and the spin.)

"This morning's report shows a resilient economy continuing to recover…Growth was strong across economic sectors. Construction continued a 9-month growth trend, adding 48,000 jobs, the highest monthly increase since March 2007. Since January 2011, the economy has created 349,000 new construction jobs. Professional and business services added 73,000 new jobs and retail trade increased by 24,000 jobs."

Center for Economic Policy Research’s (CEPR’s) Dean Baker, a realist if ever there was one, appears to a bit more upbeat than usual:

“The 236,000 new jobs reported for February are a good sign and better than generally expected,…”

Ah, but there’s that dreaded comma…

“…but there is the risk that this is being driven by unusually good winter weather. This could lead to a situation like we saw last year with very weak job growth in the spring as the result of hiring being pulled forward… The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, but this drop was primarily attributable to a decline in labor force participation.”

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Job numbers are up because of "unusually good winter weather?"

How very nice it would be – and yes, every time I say it, it sounds increasingly like a pipe dream - if someone could figure out how to really stimulate the economy to get us back to pre-Recession levels of employment. Do the 12 million unemployed people, (4.8 million of them long-term unemployed), the 2.6 million marginally attached to the labor force (who have not looked for work in the past four weeks before the survey), the 8 million workers forced to work part time think look at that “low” 7.7% and think “All right! We’re on our way. My day is coming!”

Do they go back to their online job boards and the WorkSource Centers with renewed optimism or – like some of our clients – do they do their best to try to figure out a reason to get up out of bed every day?

We all take our inspiration where we can find it – from a Washington D.C. employment survey, from a client who hangs in there and will not quit until s/he reaches his goal, from a $150,000 contest prize that says, for six weeks, our agency out-performed 74 job-focused nonprofits.

Whatever works. Inspiration is a precious commodity.  Even at 7.7%. Especially at 7.7%.