Start the Recession Without Me: The Ticker

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By Caroline Baum

Cancel the double dip. Think twice about more quantitative easing. And that forecast for 0 percent interest rates as far as the eye can see? The Fed might want to think twice about carving it in stone.

While it's always a mistake to read too much into any one economic number, today's employment report for January delivered welcome news across the board, ratifying the trend evident in weekly jobless claims.

A few key stats:

-- 243,000 non-farm jobs created last month, of which 257,000 were in the private sector;

-- a 0.2 percentage point decline in the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent, for the right reason (both the labor force and employment rose);

-- a 4-cent jump in average hourly earnings;

-- a 0.3 percentage point increase in the factory workweek to 41.9 hours, the highest since January 1998. If that large, fourth-quarter inventory build was involuntary, no one seems to have told the plant manager just yet.

Benchmark revisions to the establishment survey added 165,000 jobs to the March 2011 level. Revisions to November and December turned up an additional 60,000 jobs.

Private-sector job gains were broad-based last month, led by professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. Almost two-thirds of the 266 industries added jobs, and 69.1 percent of manufacturing industries, close to the 14-year high from January 2011.

Today's report doesn't ensure smooth sailing for the U.S. Housing remains depressed, and long-term unemployment is still uncomfortably high. But it seems fair to say that structural problems -- looming fiscal imbalances -- will supplant cyclical weakness as the No. 1 policy concern facing Washington. That's a discomfiting thought.

(Caroline Baum is a Bloomberg View columnist.)


-0- Feb/03/2012 16:07 GMT