Looking behind the numbers of the September jobs report

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:50 AM

As the Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy lost 33,000 jobs in the month of the September – possibly due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma – the numbers behind that new jobs report did not seem to indicate a broader negative outlook for the U.S. economy, but it’s clear that economic growth still hasn’t moved into a higher gear as yet in the Trump Administration.

Here is some of what we learned:

1. This was the first monthly job loss since September 2010. Seven years. That’s how long it had been since the monthly jobs report went the wrong way, back during the second year of the Obama Administration. The loss of 33,000 jobs means the average monthly job growth so far in 2017 is just over 148,000 jobs. At this point in 2016, the average monthly job growth was just under 200,000 jobs. At this point in 2015, the average monthly job growth was 209,000 jobs. So, it’s clear that job growth so far during the Trump Administration has slowed from past years.

2. The unemployment rate headline was good. The national jobless rate dropped to 4.2 percent in September, which is the lowest since February of 2001, at the start of President George W. Bush’s Administration. The jobless rate did not go down because people were leaving the labor force – instead, the size of the labor force swelled by 575,000 people, which means many more people were actively looking for a job. The Labor Force Participation rate increased to 63.1 percent, the highest since March of 2014. So, those are strong numbers, despite the 33,000 job loss. But economists have long said that the economy needs monthly job growth of over 300,000 to help restore employment to many who suffered during the 2008-2009 downturn. And we haven’t been close to that.

3. The U6 rate lowest since June 2007. The broadest measure of unemployment is known as the U6 rate, which includes all unemployed, those who are working part time while looking for a full time job, and those who aren’t looking currently for a job – but still want one, and have worked in the last year. That rate dropped to 8.3 percent in September, the lowest U6 rate in over 10 years. That’s another good indicator about the psyche of the economy, and workers as well.

4. Where were the job losses and job gains? This is where we get into the impact of the hurricanes, according to the Labor Department. “Employment in food services and drinking places dropped sharply in September (-105,000), as many workers were off payrolls due to the recent hurricanes,” the report stated. One of the strongest areas of the U.S. economy continues to be in health care, which added 23,000 jobs in September. Manufacturing was flat, which was a change from the last year.

5. GOP calls for tax reform. As D.C. digested the first negative growth jobs report in seven years, Republicans in Congress reinforced their call for tax reform legislation, arguing a cut in rates will spur new economic growth, and help the economy create more jobs. “In the weeks ahead, the Ways and Means Committee will move forward with pro-growth, pro-middle-class tax reform legislation that Congress will ultimately send to the President’s desk this year, for the first time in 31 years,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). Democrats meanwhile saw something different. “The U.S. economy is not working as it should for middle-class America,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY). One thing is for sure, this September jobs report was a curve ball for the markets.

Republicans step up attacks on FBI officials over handling of Clinton, Trump probes

Published: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 9:33 AM

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and any ties to the campaign of President Donald Trump, Republicans in the Congress have joined Mr. Trump in stepping up attacks on the FBI, raising questions about political bias inside the top ranks of that agency, an effort that could well form the basis for partisan opposition to the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Those sentiments were on full display last Thursday at the first Congressional oversight hearing for the new FBI Director, as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee repeatedly pressed Christopher Wray for answers on GOP allegations that partisan bias among top FBI officials had infected both the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the review of any ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

At the hearing, it didn’t take long for Republican frustration to boil over, as the FBI Director repeatedly refused to give detailed answers about the Clinton and Trump probes, saying – accurately – that the Inspector General of the Justice Department was reviewing how those matters were handled, as Wray sidestepped GOP requests for information.

But that didn’t matter to GOP lawmakers.

“I think you’re walking into a Contempt of Congress,” Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) snapped, criticizing Wray for fending off a variety of questions, as a number of GOP lawmakers all but asserted that the FBI was illegally withholding information from Congress on a number of fronts.

Republicans also pressed for more background about two leading FBI officials, who were involved in both the Clinton and Trump probes, demanding more information about Peter Strzok and Andrew Weissman, who GOP lawmakers say expressed anti-Trump feelings to others inside the Justice Department, impacting both of those probes.

Tied into all of this is the contention of some in the GOP that the FBI wrongly used the controversial “dossier” put together about President Trump during the 2016 campaign – which the GOP says was paid for by the Democrats – and possibly funneled to the FBI for its use.

“I mean, there are all kinds of people on Mueller’s team who are pro-Clinton,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), as some Republicans suggested a top to bottom review of key people in the Russia investigation to see if they are harboring anti-Trump sentiments.

During the over five hour hearing, Democrats asked Wray several times about President Trump’s recent assertion that the FBI was in “tatters” after the stewardship of former Director James Comey.

“I am emphasizing in every audience I can inside the bureau, that our decisions need to be made based on nothing other than the facts and the law,” Wray said.

But judging from the reaction at this oversight hearing – which could have covered any subject – the biggest concern for Republicans right now is pursuing allegations that the FBI was too lenient on Hillary Clinton, and too quick to investigate Donald Trump.

President Trump gives boost to Roy Moore at Florida rally

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 9:22 PM

Just fifteen miles from the Alabama border, President Donald Trump used a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida on Friday night to make the case for controversial GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, telling cheering supporters that his administration needs to keep that Senate seat in GOP hands, to insure that Mr. Trump’s agenda can move through the Congress.

“We can’t afford to have a liberal Democrat, who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” the President said of the special election on Tuesday for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

“Responding to someone in the crowd who was chanting Moore’s name, the President heartily agreed.

“This guy is screaming, ‘We want Roy Moore!’ He’s right,” Mr. Trump said, as he made the case for Moore in a next-door state.

In his rally, the President gave a familiar campaign stump speech, mixing attacks on the news media with a pitch for a variety of proposals, like tougher measures on illegal immigration, and money for his proposed border wall.

But to achieve that, the President said it was imperative that Republicans win in Alabama on Tuesday.

“Get out and vote for Roy Moore!” Mr. Trump said to cheers.

Clergy arrested in Maine for protesting at senator’s office

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 4:04 AM

WATCH: Clergy arrested for protesting at senator's office

Nine religious leaders in Maine were arrested on trespassing charges Thursday night after occupying Sen. Susan Collin’s office for about 10 hours, according to media reports. 

The faith leaders were protesting the Republican tax bill, which Collins voted for. The clergy, many of whom were more than 60 years old, had pledged not to leave Collins’ office until she promised to oppose her party’s tax bill when it comes up for a final vote, the Bangor Daily News reported.

As police escorted them out of the building with their hands in zip ties, the protesters sang songs. 

“This is an expression of our faith,” the Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill of HopeGateWay United Methodist Church said, according to the Bangor Daily News. “We plan to be here as long as it takes … [If] that means that we’re arrested and taken away for that, then that’s what it takes.”

Sexual misconduct claims for two in Congress to resign, another into ethics probe

Published: Thursday, December 07, 2017 @ 8:05 PM

In a head shaking series of events, a tide of sexual misconduct allegations continued to sweep across Capitol Hill on Thursday, as one Senate Democrat and one House Republican announced their resignations, while another House GOP lawmaker became the subject of an ethics review over a sexual harassment case that has already resulted in a taxpayer funded settlment.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) began the highly unusual day on Capitol Hill, taking the Senate floor just before lunch to announce his resignation ‘in coming weeks,’ but denying any wrongdoing.

Hours later, the House floor suddenly was in the spotlight, as Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) surprised colleagues by announcing he would resign effective at the end of January.

About the same time, the House Ethics Committee announced it had formed an investigative panel to review allegations of sexual harassment against Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who has already acknowledged having the taxpayers pay $84,000 to a former employee to settle a sexual harassment case.

All those developments came amid talk in the halls of the Capitol of possibly more stories emerging about lawmakers, mirroring the public rush of sexual misconduct allegations nationally.

“Every one of these claims, whether it’s in business, industry, or in Congress, has to be taken very seriously,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, hours before Ryan said he had asked Rep. Franks to resign.

The Speaker’s office put out this background on the Franks case:

“Last Wednesday, the speaker was briefed on credible claims of misconduct by Rep. Trent Franks. He found the allegations to be serious and requiring action,” read a statement put out by the Speaker’s office.

The Speaker’s statement was much different than the explanation put out by Franks, who said he had discussed the issue of having a child by a surrogate with two former female staffers.

“Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress as of January 31st, 2018,” Franks said in a statement.

Meanwhile, pressure increased on Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), who admitted this week that he had used taxpayer dollars to pay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement with a former employee on Capitol Hill.

On CNN Thursday evening, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) said she thought Farenthold needed to move on.

“I think that he should voluntarily resign,” Love said, becoming the second GOP lawmaker to call for Farenthold to quit, along with Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

Farenthold is now facing a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which was announced at about the time that Rep. Franks announced his resignation.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), was resisting calls for his resignation, over claims of sexual misconduct during his 2016 run for Congress.

“We have a responsibility to uphold the dignity of the House of Representatives,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has publicly urged Kihuen to leave the Congress.