We All Could Use Some Good News — But Is The New Unemployment Report Really Good News?

Today the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate has declined to 7.8 percent.  It’s the first time the rate has fallen below 8 percent since President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009.

Unfortunately, the economy only created 114,000 new jobs last month, which is just about that number of new workers who enter the job market every month.   Although the reported jobs creation number was small, the unemployment rate dropped sharply — from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent — because the number of people who said they were employed rose by 873,000.

It being  the middle of an election campaign, you’d expect the statistics to become a political football, and that’s exactly what has happened.  President Obama says the report shows the economy is on the right track and we shouldn’t turn backMitt Romney says the economy isn’t producing enough jobs and that our current economy isn’t what a real recovery looks like.

I’m happy that the unemployment rate has fallen below 7.8 percent, but I’m more inclined to agree with Mitt Romney than the President on the import of the numbers.  An economy that creates 114,000 jobs is basically treading water, and a 7.8 percent unemployment rate is unacceptably high and nothing to strut about.  And, not being a government statistician or economist, it’s hard for me to reconcile the report that only 114,000 jobs were created with a surprising, 873,000-person increase in the ranks of the employed.  Is the difference people who are working at home, or working part-time, or something else?

I can only go with what I am seeing here in central Ohio, and I’m not seeing signs of a budding recovery, significant hiring, or great optimism on the part of my fellow citizens.  I hope I’m missing those signs — but until I see them I’m going to reserve judgment and see if we get more information about where those 873,000 newly employed people came from.

Urban Birds

Obviously, the downtown areas of modern America cities are not pastoral places.  You don’t expect to find furry woodlands creatures gamboling through traffic, for example.

But there is one creature, besides humans, that seems to deal pretty well with the vast concrete expanse of the urban world:  birds.  And not just pigeons — those loud, filthy, disgusting rats of the air — either.

Plant a tree or two on a courtyard amidst the high rises, and you’re soon likely to find a bird or two or perched in the branches.  On a recent trip to Houston, I saw three different types of birds (at least, they looked to be different to my untrained eye) clinging to branches in the same tree on the same generic corporate office building plaza — chirping, grooming themselves, calling out to their fellow feathered friends, and finally flapping off to some other location.

Birds are good company when you are moving through a downtown area.  A chirp and a flutter of wings may be small things, but they make you feel like you still have some connection to the world that exists beyond the edge of the concrete, asphalt, and steel.

In The Back Seat Of The Cab

If you’ve traveled frequently for work, you’ve probably spent a lot of time in the back seats of cabs.

More time than you’d care to think, I’d wager.  If, at the moment you depart for that Great Airline Terminal in the Sky, you added up all the time spent in cabs over your working life — all those 45-minute trips from the airport to your hotel, all those crosstown rides through hopelessly snarled traffic when the UN is in town, all those half-awake dashes to catch an early bird flight — you might have spent a week or maybe even two in the back seat of a cab.

We tend not to focus on our “cab time.”  This is a good thing, because cab time sucks.  When you are in the back seat of a taxi, you’re checking your flight information, catching up on your email, or groggily wondering whether you’re overdue to experience some form of travel hell.  You don’t focus on the cabbie’s driving, and you especially don’t pay much attention to where you’re sitting. God forbid!  If you did think about such things, you’d ask some unsettling questions, and you’d start carrying a can of Lysol and a plastic sheet on every road trip.  How old is this cab, anyway?  What’s that smell?  Hey, is that a stain on the floor?  Just who were the passengers before me?  Were they doing something unsavory?  Were they suffering from some debilitating communicable disease?

I’m in a cab right now, trying not to think any of these disquieting thoughts.  It’s time to play Spider Solitaire on the iPhone, zone out, and trust the unknown professional behind the wheel to get me to the airport on time.