Newly gainfully employed as I am, I admit to feeling a little warmer and fuzzier about the economy than I did not so long ago. That shiny, new 8.2 percent unemployment rate people are pointing to with a tentative sigh of relief? Yeah, that's me. (Hi, mom!) But even as news stories note a bit of a dark cloud to that silver lining in the form of fewer-than-expected new jobs—even leading their coverage with that datum—there's still more reason to take that dipping unemployment rate with a grain of salt. That's because, even as jobless numbers have dipped, so have the ranks of people who actually have jobs.
In February 2012, or so says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor participation rate was 63.9 percent. In March, it dropped to 63.8 percent. That's down from 64.2 percent in March of 2011. And, if you're not participating, you don't get counted—whether or not you have a job. So, despite an unemployment rate nominally moving in an encouraging direction, 31,000 fewer people were drawing paychecks last month than the month before.
In fact, the labor participation rate has been consistently spiraling down for several years now, and there really isn't a soft landing for numbers of this sort.
Cruddy labor numbers aren't an Obama-specific problem—the participation rate has been dropping for over a decade, ever since the halcyon days of the dot-com bubble.
But then, we already knew that the lousy economy was a success of bipartisan cooperation. It takes a lot of cross-aisle hand-shaking to drive the national debt from simply disturbing levels to Greek-style over-achievement in the course of a decade. Why wouldn't that sort of talent work equal magic with the labor market?