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A Good Step Forward in a Long Recovery

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Today's payroll figures were a genuinely happy surprise: 288,000 jobs gained in April. Those are great numbers -- enough to absorb all our population growth and put more than a few unemployed people back to work. They suggest hope that the dreadful first-quarter gross domestic product numbers may have been a temporary setback, not a harbinger of things to come.

Of course, jobs figures tend to jump around from month to month. We'll need to live through a few revisions, and a few more months of good jobs numbers, before we can entirely breathe a sigh of relief.

As Justin Wolfers pointed out on Twitter today, however, they are not nearly enough. April's figures still leave net job growth over the last seven years at approximately zero:

Because the working-age population has grown since 2007, this means that almost five years after the recession, we are still not creating enough jobs to reabsorb the workers we lost.

To see just how bad this is, compare our current payroll figures with those after every other postwar recession:

You can't see the final bar for 2007, because it's basically nothing -- just 0.07 percent. To find employment numbers this bad in U.S. history, you'd have to go back to the Great Depression.

This shouldn't keep us from celebrating a genuinely good jobs report. But a genuinely good jobs report shouldn't keep us from remembering just how far we still have to go.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net