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U.S. Jobs Picture Finally Getting Back To Normal


Some good economic news today - there is more evidence that the U.S. job market is finally getting back on track more than five years after the great recession. The government's monthly jobs report shows an increase of more than a million jobs over the past three months. The unemployment rate did go up a notch, but as NPR's John Ydstie reports, even that is a positive sign.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: There were lots of accolades from economists for this jobs report. John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo, says it's the best report in five years.

JOHN SILVIA: Since the great recession it's probably the best report we've seen, because not only do you have a gain in jobs for January, but you also have December and November revised up as well. So it's a pretty solid report.

YDSTIE: The revisions put November's job gain at a whopping 423,000, December at a very strong 329,000 and January's at a very respectable 257,000. Altogether, more than a million jobs were created, making it the best three months of job growth since 1997. The unemployment rate did rise a notch to 5.7 percent, but Silvia says that happened because people on the sidelines are returning to the labor force to look for work as the economy improves.

SILVIA: People say, OK, now I've got an opportunity. There's a possibility of me getting a job. Now I get off the couch and go out and look for jobs. And that's a positive sign for the economy.

YDSTIE: Job creation was broad-based in this report. Construction jobs increased by 39,000, healthcare was up 38,000, and manufacturing added 22,000 jobs. Among the few negatives in the report, oil and gas extraction lost a couple thousand jobs following a plunge in oil prices. CME Group economist Blu Putnam said the pullback in that sector is unlikely to hurt the broader economy.

BLU PUTNAM: The small job losses that we are probably going to lose over the course of the year in the energy sector will be more than offset by a large factor in the rest of the economy.

YDSTIE: Putnam says the vibrant job growth is likely to convince Federal Reserve policymakers to raise their benchmark interest rate soon. It's been near zero since 2008.

PUTNAM: We would suggest that this report keeps the fed on track toward a very small rate rise in the summer of 2015.

YDSTIE: John Silvia agrees. He thinks fed officials will begin to move rates rates back to a more normal level at their June meeting. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.