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Obama Celebrates 'Durable Economy' As Unemployment Drops Below 5 Percent

A worker is shown last month at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Warren Stamping Plant in Warren, Mich.
Bill Pugliano
Getty Images
A worker is shown last month at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Warren Stamping Plant in Warren, Mich.

The U.S. economy added just 151,000 jobs in January while unemployment dropped slightly, to 4.9 percent, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists had expected to see about 190,000 new jobs.

The unemployment rate, which has held steady at 5 percent the past few months, dropped slightly to 4.9 percent. It's the first time unemployment has fallen below 5 percent since the recession.

President Obama celebrated that benchmark by making a statement on the economy, noting that not only had unemployment hit its lowest level in eight years, but that the private sector had also seen 71 straight months of private-sector job growth. The growth of the economy is also "finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks," the president said.

"The United States of America right now has the strongest, most durable economy in the world," Obama said. But when asked by reporters, he acknowledged that many Americans are still feeling the effects of the recession — and that the labor force participation rate, 62.7 percent, is still comparatively low, indicating many Americans aren't actively looking for work.

Obama explained his position on the economy by way of a workout analogy:

"We should feel good about the progress we've made, understanding that we've still got more work to do.

"It's sort of like, you know, I'm 54 now so I've got to work out harder to stay in shape. And, you know, if I'm feeling good in the gym, I want to acknowledge that what I'm doing is working. Because otherwise I'll just go off and have a big double-bacon cheeseburger or something, because I'll think, well, this isn't working.

"No — if it's working then we should be staying on that same path. That doesn't mean that I'm where I necessarily want to be; it doesn't mean that I stop doing some hard work to get where we need to go."

The January jobs report also revised the more-robust job growth during the end of 2015, shifting the overall total downward: November's job gains were changed from 252,000 to 280,000, the BLS says, and in December, the economy added 262,000 new jobs, rather than 292,000.

One bright spot on the report: Wages. Average hourly earnings rose by 12 cents in January, to $25.39. The report says that over the year, wages have risen 2.5 percent overall.

Retail, restaurants, health care and manufacturing all gained jobs, the BLS says. But jobs were lost in transportation, warehousing, private education services and mining.

Meanwhile, NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports for our Newscast unit that other reports suggest layoff activity has increased:

"The Labor Department said claims for new jobless benefits increased last week. And outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas said planned layoffs spiked last month because of cutbacks in retail and energy," Yuki says. "Last month, Wal-Mart and Macy's both announced plans to pare down their workforces."

And last month, the Commerce department reported that GDP growth had slowed to 0.7 percent.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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