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Democrats acknowledge Friday’s solid job report — with caveats

Ben Werschkul
DC Producer

Hiring jumped in November, as wage growth exceeded estimates and the unemployment rate dipped to 3.5%. It was an impressive jobs report all around, sending the major stock indices higher on Friday.

Even Democrats found little in the November jobs report they could use against the president.

"There's no way to cut it any differently, the 266,000 number is a big number," said Ben Harris, a former top economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, on Yahoo Finance’s “The First Trade.” “The tick down in unemployment is great news," Harris said, pointing to the decline in the U-6, which fell to 6.9% from 7.0%. (The U-6, the broadest measure of unemployment, is the rate that includes discouraged workers no longer seeking jobs and part-time workers seeking full-time employment.)

But Harris – and other Democrats – offered some praise of the numbers with plenty of caveats. "Looking under the hood, it's not quite as terrific," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that “despite some encouraging numbers, the November jobs report offers little solace to the farmers and hard-working families who are struggling to stay above water,” she said in a statement.

President Trump’s first response to the number was a bit more direct.

Like many politicians, Trump has a tendency to downplay jobs numbers when they make his political opponents look good and tout them when they are positive for him.

As former press secretary Sean Spicer memorably put in 2017 it while discussing positive jobs numbers under President Obama and President Trump: “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’”

A focus on wages, trade

Democrats have zeroed in on the wage number as an area to critique. Average hourly earnings rose 3.1% in November from the year before; 3.0% growth was expected.

The Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, released a statement from Economist Michael Madowitz saying, “This is a tight labor market by historical standards, yet wage growth remains tepid.”

Pelosi said the Democrats’ bills would, among other things, give Americans bigger paychecks. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, one of Pelosi’s deputies, noted that “slowed wage growth shows the failure of this Administration and its policies” to capitalize on the economic expansion of the last decade.

I think that there are some signs that we should be a bit cautious about getting too excited. Wage growth is not all that strong,” said Harris, who is also a visiting professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He pointed specifically to manufacturing as an area that is still hurting.

Diane Swonk, an independent macroeconomist, echoed those Democrat’s views. "The manufacturing sector actually appears to have lost jobs after adjusting for the return of striking GM workers and those laid off because of idled production at GM," she wrote in a note.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D- NY), vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, noted that “Americans in many communities and parts of society still find it hard to get a well-paying job.” She focused her statement on calling for legislation to preserve and strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.

Maloney’s statement also hit on a theme popular with Democrats: trade. “The job market has shown remarkable resilience in the face of the president’s increasingly erratic trade policies,” she said.

Andy Green, managing director of economic policy at CAP, said the economy is performing well “despite everything Trump has done to it,” including his trade war with China.

In a twitter thread Friday, Green commented on the positive jobs report and ended with his argument for the source of much of the ongoing economic expansion: “The continuation of smart Obama-Yellen policies.”

Hoyer added that the report “reflects continued steady employment gains that reach back more than nine years, well into the Obama presidency.”

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington DC.

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