Republicans, Democrats scramble to spin unemployment report

Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to put out their spin ahead of Friday’s unemployment report.

The report is expected to show the economy gained a significant number of jobs for the first time in three years, and a Thursday release by the Department of Labor that said that weekly unemployment claims had hit a new low did nothing to lower the expectations.

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Republicans on Thursday emphasized that if the report is positive, it will only be because government is growing.

House Republican Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) press shop issued a release predicting the numbers will be “inflated” because of temporary Census workers.

The release noted a report issued earlier this week that projected the economy would lose 23,000 jobs in March if only workers from privately-held firms were considered.

It also stated that 49 of 50 states have lost jobs since President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus, and that only Washington, D.C. has gained more than 1,000 jobs.

The attack line fits in with GOP arguments that the new healthcare law is a job-killer and an expansion of government.

Economist Mark Zandi earlier this week projected that 175,000 jobs could be created in March, though he said 100,000 of that total will be hires by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Zandi’s projection appears to be in line with other private forecasts.

Democrats are hoping the positive numbers help them build a case that the stimulus bill is working.

They’ve repeatedly argued that job losses would have been even worse without the stimulus, and that Obama effectively staved off another Great Depression with the stimulus and actions taken to shore up the financial system.

But the Obama administration also appears to be trying to avoid setting expectations too high for a recovery.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in an interview Thursday on “The Today Show” warned that unemployment will remain “unacceptably high” for some time.

Geithner said it would simply take more time for the economy to recover given the “huge amount of damage” done during the recession. The country lost 3.7 million jobs between December 2008 and March 2009 alone.

“The economy’s growing now, that’s the first step,” Geithner said. “But the unemployment rate is still terribly high, and it’s going to stay unacceptably high for a long time.”

It’s in the interest of the administration to keep expectations at an even keel. Unemployment reports for the next three months are likely to look good given Census Bureau hiring.

But then the Census Bureau will have to let those hires go.

Because the Census is hiring more people than ever before to collect information, it will also be laying off more people than before.

The Thursday report from Labor said weekly unemployment claims fell to 439,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week.