White House: Jobs report shows economy ‘gaining traction,’ but…

Olivier Knox and Rachel Rose Hartman

…look out for the impact of across-the-board spending cuts known in D.C. as “sequestration.”

The American economy added 236,000 jobs in the month of February and unemployment dropped from 7.9 in January to 7.7 percent last month, according to new figures released on Friday morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The White House cheered the report. Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a White House blog post that “while more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides evidence that the recovery that began in mid-2009 is gaining traction.”

But Krueger emphasized that the data came from early February, “before sequestration began.” Those cuts, roughly $85 billion for the rest of the fiscal year, are expected to whittle down economic growth and cost jobs, according to nonpartisan analysts.

“The monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and payroll employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision,” Krueger said. “Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available.”

Krueger's comments recalled President Barack Obama's March 1 admonition that failing to replace sequestration would hold down what remains a slow but steady recovery—comments that sounded very much like an insurance policy against the potential political damage to come. "Every time that we get a piece of economic news, over the next month, next two months, next six months, as long as the sequester is in place, we’ll know that that economic news could have been better if Congress had not failed to act," Obama said.

Republicans greeted the report as decent news, but they declared the economy was still weaker than it should be.

“Any job creation is positive news,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “But the fact is unemployment in America is still way above the levels the Obama White House projected” four years ago in the debate over the stimulus package.