But to borrow a line from Douglas Adams, don't panic. Brad Plumer notes some context that's worth keeping in mind.
One big question, however, is whether the BLS's estimates for March are actually correct. As Ryan Avent points out, because there's such a huge margin of error in these reports, there's a 90 percent chance that the U.S. economy added somewhere between 20,000 and 220,000 jobs last month. In recent times, the jobs figures have gone up significantly every time they get revised in later months. [...]
Meanwhile, there's been a lot of talk lately about whether the freakishly warm winter artificially boosted the economy in January and February by helping the construction industry get an early start.
In other words, we paid in March for the good news in January and February.
What's more, while this was clearly a disappointing report, the news wasn't all bad. The U-6 rate dropped to its lowest level in years; average hourly pay went up; and public-sector layoffs are no longer dragging down the larger job market.
There's also this oddity: the overall unemployment rate is now at its lowest level of the Obama presidency (if we count his presidency as starting in February 2009 -- his first full month in office).
Granted, the unemployment rate is one of my least favorite metrics -- it can be misleading and it's not nearly as important as monthly job totals -- but for much of the public, the media, and even in political rhetoric, this number has real significance.
And here's the kicker that shouldn't go overlooked: it's just one month. It's never wise to celebrate excessively in response to one positive report, and it's equally unwise to stand on ledge after one discouraging report.
The first quarter of 2012 was still the best for job creation in six years -- a detail that shouldn't get lost in the shuffle because today's report came in below expectations.