Another month, another jobs report with something for both the optimists and pessimists. Here's something both should agree on, though: The job market is still not nearly strong enough.
The unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday, the lowest jobless rate in four years. The number of workers on nonfarm payrolls expanded by 146,000 jobs -- better than Wall Street economists expected.
So that's the good news, the kind of news that makes Jack Welch suspicious. Behind the headlines, though, the guts of the report were more troubling.
For one thing, the government's estimate of job growth in September and October was revised lower by 49,000 jobs. With those revisions, job creation has averaged less than 139,000 per month in the past three months. That is less than the number of jobs, roughly 150,000 per month, needed to keep up with population growth.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate did not fall because there were a ton more jobs in the economy. In fact, the number of people counted as "employed" in the survey that produces the jobless rate -- which is separate from the business survey that produces the payrolls report -- fell by 122,000. The unemployment rate dropped only because a whopping 350,000 people left the labor force.