By Hannah Schultz, International Correspondent
According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor, employers added 242,000 workers in the month of February, an increase from 172,000 in January, suggesting a trend of optimistic growth for the job market.
According to the monthly report, employment gains occurred in health care and social assistance, retail trade, food services and private educational services. In this seventh year of recovery from recession, the unemployment rate has dropped sharply to 4.9 percent and the private sector has accumulated 72 months of uninterrupted job gains, the longest streak on record.
More specific statistics show that people too discouraged to search for work or who are making do with a part-time job because they can’t find a full-time one fell 0.2 percent to 9.7 percent. There was also evidence that people who had long been sidelined were being lured back to the job market, albeit slowly. The New York Times reported that the overall share of Americans in the labor force increased 0.2 percentage points to 62.9 percent.
Nevertheless, not everyone was impressed by the economic growth. House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline said that while February’s jobs numbers showed “more Americans are back to work and our workforce continues to improve. . .exceeding low expectations is not good enough for the tens of millions of workers still sitting on the sidelines.”
This sentiment has bled into the presidential campaigns, particularly striking a chord with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both have used the job market to invoke strong emotions in the public, capitalizing on widespread feelings of distress and anger at the inequality of the current job market growth.
“I believe that when real unemployment is close to 10 percent, and when our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our water systems—Flint, Michigan, comes to mind—our wastewater plants, our rail, our airports, in many places, are disintegrating, yeah, we can create 13 million jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure, at a cost of a trillion dollars,” Sanders said in the PBS NewsHour Democratic debate.
According to the New York Times, a robust demand for hospitality and service workers has been helping keep total job growth count up despite losses in manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and energy, industries that also tend to be dominated by blue-collar white men, who provide the core of support for Trump.
Unemployment rates also vary by region. While Nebraska’s unemployment rate in December was one of the lowest in the country at 3 percent, Louisiana’s and Kentucky’s were at the highest (5.8 and 5.7 percent, respectively).
In his article for the Washington Post, Jared Bernstein, who served as former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, expressed concern for the way the economy is influencing the election.
“One of the tragedies of the current election is wasted anger,” Bernstein wrote. “People are justifiably angry about an economy in which reckless finance brought us the recession, got bailed out and recovered way before the rest of us. What’s more, their anger is politically motivating them, which is exactly what you would want to see if we hope to change course and self-correct. But too many are at risk of wasting their anger on candidates who can only foment more discontent and dysfunction.”