Jobs Report: Good! Bad! Hazy!

The January employment report is out, and now the spinning can begin. Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 112,000 in January to 130.2 million, seasonally adjusted. Since August, payroll employment has grown by 366,000. Over on the household part of the survey, the employment increase was more like 496,000. Either way, the 112,000 number was lower than people were looking for. For example, Reuters had the economic consensus at 165,000 jobs in the month.

But now the fun begins: people get to decide whether it was good, bad, or indifferent. Fans of “good” will point to the high household survey numbers, the tick down in unemployment, and that job creation was the fastest in three years. Fans of “bad” will say it was worse than expected, that it is likely to be revised down further in a month or so, and that we are still below steady-state job production almost two years after the recent recession ended.

The confusion about up, down, or sideways is neatly captured here. Reuters says things are bad, while the AP says things are good — in back-to-back wire releases: