A Jekyll-and-Hyde Jobs Report

| Fri Sep. 3, 2010 9:10 AM EDT

The Labor Department's numbers for August are out, and here are the highlights: The unemployment rate nudged up last month, to 9.6 percent. The private sector added 67,000 jobs, but the government lost 121,000—114,000 of which were Census jobs—giving us a net jobs loss of 54,000.

There are some brighter spots: The Bureau of Labor Statistics revised its job-loss figures for July, saying 54,000 were lost instead of 131,000 and changed its June estimate from 221,000 to 175,000. The number of long-term unemployed edged downward as well, from 6.6 million to 6.2 million, or 42 percent of all unemployed Americans. In the last year, the economy has added 229,000 jobs; since the recession started in December 2007, we've lost 7.6 million jobs.

Prior to Friday's numbers, economists feared larger job losses and a bleaker outlook. Goldman Sachs' number crunchers predicted a net loss of 125,000 jobs. The White House, for one, is touting today's numbers, noting that it's the eighth-straight month of private sector jobs gains. However, the real unemployment rate—including the underemployed and those "discouraged" workers who've stopped looking for work and left the labor force—rose again in August, to 16.7 percent from 16.5 percent.

In all, today's is a very mixed, mostly weak report. There was a slight increase in the percentage of working-age people participating in the labor force, up to 64.7 percent from 64.6. That's good and bad: It means a few more people are sending off resumes and looking for work, but it will also likely increase the headline unemployment rate because the number of jobless Americans is growing. That means if and when the economic recovery starts to accelerate, the jobless rate will increase before it starts to go down, a politically toxic situation for both parties—and that could begin right around election time.

Some groups are holding up today's numbers as evidence of the need for more jobless assistance. Here's the National Employment Law Project's Christine Owens:

"Today’s employment report closes a summer of uncertainty that has demonstrated how far away we are from an economic recovery that creates jobs and brings unemployment down. With extraordinarily high long-term unemployment continuing—affecting over 6.2 million people—today’s jobless workers cannot wait any longer for work and income support. We need stronger policies that will help put workers back on payrolls, stimulate the economy with consumer spending and help us move out of this lethargic period of stagnant growth,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project.