President Obama, for one, is encouraged by the latest economic numbers. Employers added 227,000 jobs in February — the third straight month in which more than 200,000 jobs were added to the economy — keeping the unemployment rate steady at 8.3 percent. Another good sign in the new Labor Department report was an uptick in the manufacturing sector, which was behind 31,000 of the jobs added last month.
"Manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s," Obama said on Friday before workers at a jet-engine disc-manufacturing facility in Virginia. "When I come to places like this and I see the work that's getting done, it gives me confidence that there are better days ahead."
But not everyone quite shares the president's optimism. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, pointed out that while unemployment generally stayed the same (and improved in some cases) last month for other groups, African-American unemployment rose from 13.6 percent to 14.1.
"We cannot fully rebound or recover when a major segment of our nation's population continues to struggle," Cleaver wrote in a statement, going on to knock congressional Republicans for refusing to consider the president's American Jobs Act and pushing tax cuts for the wealthiest corporations instead. "More importantly, we cannot wait for opportunities to trickle down."
Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, has a different read on the February numbers. He suspects that the reported black unemployment rate in January, which dropped dramatically from 15.8 percent to 13.6, was the result of a "statistical fluke" that threw everything off.
"These are estimates based on a Department of Labor survey, and there are possibilities for error in many aspects," Austin told The Root, explaining his view that the January estimate for black unemployment was too low. "Because the African-American population is a smaller subset of the overall population, the degree of error is going to be larger."
Austin advised against reading too much into the employment numbers from month to month because of the fluctuations. "What you really should be looking for is the longer-term trends of what's happened over the last three months or six months," he said. "When you look at the numbers from December to February [15.8 percent to 14.1], there is positive movement for African Americans."
Then, of course, there's the oft-repeated issue of the Department of Labor statistics' not including the millions of Americans who are underemployed or have given up looking for work — something that will always make the true unemployment rate much higher.
How are you feeling about the latest jobs report? Do you feel that the overall economy is really picking up, or is it just statistical noise?
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.