Is the job market healthy or just less sick?
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -- From the campaign trail to American kitchen tables this summer, one topic of constant attention is the job market. Elections often turn on the state of the economy, but the creation of jobs has already become an intense focus for both parties -- even before the political conventions.
Republicans point to recent positive news on the job front -- the latest word from the Labor Department shows the economy created 248,000 jobs in May. Even more impressive, 947,000 new jobs were created between March and May -- making it the strongest three-month period in four years.
That news cheers some economists.
"I would say that the reports we've had on the labor market over the past three months are more than enough to convince us that the recovery in the labor market is truly in place," says Conrad DeQuadros, Senior Economist at Bear Stearns.
"Gains have been broad-based, and that's encouraging because the fact that the increases in employment are not dependent on one particular industry suggests that this improvement in job creation is on a sustainable trend."
Democrats counter that the quality of jobs that are being created are often not equal to those jobs that have disappeared from the economy in recent years. And while the employment picture has improved in recent months, administration critics are not impressed.
"This isn't an administration that wakes up and says 'what can we do for the working class family today,'" says Jared Bernstein, Senior Economist at the Economic Policy Institute. Bernstein says the current unemployment rate of 5.6 percent is the same as it was in November 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
But beyond the politics of jobs, the American workforce itself remains a fascinating story. 139 million Americans make up the American labor market -- the third largest in the world, behind only China and India in size.
This week on Lou Dobbs Tonight, we take a closer look at some of the individuals who make up that labor market -- in our series "America Works."
On Monday, we profile an older American who is still working as a lifeguard. Tuesday we look at the life of an Emergency Medical Technician. Wednesday we report on what the work life of an amusement park worker is like. Thursday we look at one of the most dangerous jobs in the workforce -- a fisherman. And Friday we profile a professional chef.