Suprise Dip in Unemployment.

The jobs report out today shows a tiny decrease in unemployment, from 10.0 percent to 9.7 percent. This still follows 20,000 jobs lost in January and new revisions that measure the entire toll of this recession: 8.4 million jobs lost since the recession officially began in December 2007. Nonetheless, January's numbers show the smallest monthly job loss in over a year, suggesting that the unemployment market is beginning to stabilize, although economists forecast unemployment remaining at current levels for the rest of the year.

One interesting fact to note, however, is that the U-6 measurement, which includes people who have lost work hours and those who have given up on finding a job alongside the unemployed, dropped relatively dramatically, from 17.3 of the labor force -- where it had held steady for the last several months -- to 16.5 percent. This could augur well for the jobs situation: The decrease comes from part-time workers transitioning back to the full-time -- nearly 850,000 involuntary part-time employees made the switch -- a sign that broader hiring could be in the offing as demand for labor increases.

With discussion now turning to the jobs bill in the Senate, the question is whether Democrats can convince Republicans not to filibuster their effort to cut taxes on small businesses to encourage hiring. Let's not even talk about extending automatic stabilizers and investing in future jobs, or any of the other jobs-building priorities from the president's budget that will attract even more heat from congressional conservatives.

-- Tim Fernholz

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