White House ‘surprised’ by unemployment drop

White House economic advisers were "surprised" by the pace at which the economy added jobs in 2013, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors said Thursday.

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Jason Furman said that over the past six months, the administration had seen the unemployment rate drop by an average of a tenth of a percent. He said White House advisers had expected that 0.6 percent decline over a full year.

"The unemployment rate over the last six months has surprised us by coming down more quickly than we had expected or than other forecasters had expected," Furman said.

The administration said earlier this month that the country's unemployment rate had fallen to 7 percent in December, the lowest level in five years.

Earlier this week, Federal Reserve officials revised their projections for the job market in 2014, predicting that the unemployment rate could fall as low as 6.3 percent. That's down from an initial projection in September that unemployment would fall to between 6.4 and 6.8 percent.

Furman also downplayed concerns that the unemployment rate was falling because of a mass exodus from the labor market, saying that declining participation could be primarily explained by the retirement of baby boomers.

But despite the improving unemployment rate, Furman said it was still important for Congress to extend emergency federal unemployment insurance, which is set to expire at the end of the month.

Furman said the failure to extend the program puts nearly a quarter of a million jobs at risk and argued that the aid motivates people to stay in the labor market.

"One of the biggest effects it has is, you can't have unemployment insurance if you're not looking for a job," he said. "The unemployment insurance extension encourages people to keep searching for a job."

Earlier this week, the president said a failure to extend the benefits would hurt the nation's economy.

"You’ve got potentially 1.3 million people during Christmas time that are going to lose their unemployment benefits at a time when it’s still very difficult for a lot of folks to find a job," Obama said at an economic forum at the White House with mayors from across the nation.

"That’s not just bad for those individuals and those families, that’s bad for our economy and that’s bad for our cities, because if they don’t have the money to pay the rent and buy food for their families, that has an impact on demand for our businesses, and what we know is a failure to extend unemployment benefits is going to have a drag on economic growth next year,” he said.