Business, Finance & Economics

U.S. economy shows surprising surge, adds 243,000 jobs; unemployment falls

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A man prepares a meal near a "help wanted" sign at a restaurant in San Francisco, Calif., last year. The unemployment rate made a surprisingly large drop in January. (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters.)

Another dose of economic good news on Friday with the American unemployment rate falling to 8.3 percent in January, as the U.S. economy added a net of 243,000 jobs, the U.S. Department of Labor announced.

That announcement surprised economists who, according to The New York Times, had expected the economy to add just 135,000 jobs, leaving the unemployment rate at 8.3 percent. The economy has now added jobs for 15-straight quarters and the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since February 2009, President Barack Obama's first full month in office.

As the economy proves to be the biigget issue of the campaign — with Mitt Romney and related Super PACs already running ads critical of Obama's job creation record — the job report gives Obama's campaign a bit of good news that could play a major factor in the election, come November.

The January job growth represents a continuation of several trends. First, the public sector continues to shed jobs, with the a private sector increase of 257,000 offset somewhat by shrinking government payrolls. It also represents a continued better-than-expected, but-not-great growth by private employers, despite record profits. According to the Times, the U.S. economy is now producing more goods and services than it did before the recession, but is doing so with 6 million fewer workers.

So far, U.S. companies have mostly chosen to horde the increased cash they're taking in, or to invest in capital expenses, rather than hiring. There are reasons to doubt whether the economy can keep beating economists' projections. Oil prices are climbing. Home prices are falling — though home sales are increasing for the first time in a long while.

“It’s a steady grind in the right direction, but it’s a grind,” Omair Sharif, U.S. economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland said to the Times. “You’re going to have a situation where you take a couple steps forward and a step backward.”

According to the Associated Press, the 243,000 jobs added in January are 50,000 more jobs added than the monthly average for all of last year. The jobs report also included upward revisions for 2011, including an economy that added an extra 3,000 jobs in December, an extra 200,000 jobs over the course of the year, rather than what had previously been estimated, as well as total new jobs in 2011 of 1.82 million, roughly double 2010's figure, the AP said.

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