WH: January employment data shows gradual 'healing'

January's just-released unemployment report contains "signs of gradual labor market healing," but much work lies ahead to restore the economy to its full strength, Christina Romer, chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said Friday.

Unemployment unexpectedly fell from 10 percent in December to 9.7 percent in January, but the economy also shed about 20,000 jobs in that time frame, the White House announced Friday morning.

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Romer characterized those numbers as "signs of the beginning of recovery." But she took care to downplay expectations that Janaury's numbers portend a stable trend of growth in the lagging labor market.

"There will likely be bumps in the road ahead," Romer wrote in a post on the White House blog. "The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision."

"Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative," she added. "It is essential that we continue our efforts to move in the right direction and replace job losses with robust job gains."

Part of the White House's strategy to quicken the pace of economic recovery includes a robust jobs package, which President Barack Obama has promoted aggressively this month. The proposals include tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed workers or enlarge paychecks for those they currently employ, and new incentives for banks to lend to small businesses.

Many of those proposals are likely to be part of Senate Democrats' forthcoming jobs bill, top party leaders have recently signaled. That total package could cost as much as $80 billion, according to early estimates.

But White House officials have been quick to caution that even those additional reforms might not produce an immediate, positive shift in the labor market trend line. In a later interview on MSNBC, Romer explained that population growth might contribute to the unemployment rate in future weeks.

She also said discouraged workers -- those who are not actively looking for a job, and are not counted in the unemployment rate -- might also "come back in," causing a slight uptick in the nation's jobless figures.

However, Romer stressed to MSNBC that January's numbers were still "hopeful signs," and reaffirmed the White House's commitment to economic recovery and jobs this year.


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