Jobs Day circus is back

new day jobs report feb 15_00002923
new day jobs report feb 15_00002923

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(CNN)It's the circus that comes to town once a month: Jobs Day.

On the first Friday of each month, the Labor Department releases its jobs report detailing the unemployment rate and other economic data.
As soon as that report is released at 8:30 a.m., pundits, economists, White House officials and congressional staffers leap into action. Their goal: seize on the jobs data to buttress their pre-existing views of the economy -- and how the political class is managing it.
On Capitol Hill, the action begins well before the numbers are released. Staffers often prepare reactions to the report the night before so that when the numbers are released, they can quickly hit the "send" button.
    "It'll be a statement that'll have holes in it. It's a bit like Mad Libs because you don't know what the numbers are going to be the next day," said Doug Heye, former senior communications aide to ex-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
    "You can almost tell how surprising the economic news will be by how late the statements come out," Heye added. "If they come out at 8:35, it's a bit what people expected. If you don't get the statement ... until 9:07, it's because they had to go and rewrite the thing."
    The monthly production kicked into gear once again Friday morning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the economy added 295,000 jobs in February -- far surpassing expectations -- and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5% from 5.7% in January.
    These days, with the economy creating a relatively steady rate of new jobs each month and the unemployment rate at pre-recession levels (the last time the unemployment rate was below 5.5% was in May 2008), there are fewer big surprises on Jobs Day.
    That makes it easier for lawmakers to recycle similar language from the previous statements.
    Take House Speaker John Boehner, who in three of the last four jobs report reactions described the data as "welcome news" before highlighting actions Republicans have taken to create more jobs.
    Friday was no exception. "While it is welcome news that more Americans found work last month, middle-class families continue to be left behind by the president's policies," Boehner said in a statement released moment after the release of the February report.
    With a few minor tweaks here and there, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has repeated this phrase -- "the longest uninterrupted period of private sector job creation in our history" -- in the last five consecutive Jobs Day statements.
    And sure enough, those words were back in Pelosi's statement on Friday.
    "Today's jobs report marks five years of uninterrupted private sector job growth -- a momentous milestone in the longest uninterrupted stretch of private job creation in our history," she said.
    Jim Manley, a former longtime aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said the overwhelming focus on the Hill is to get these statements out fast -- and stick to the partisan script.
    "When there was a Republican administration, as a Democrat, at the risk of stating the obvious, I'm not so sure we spent much time working on the details more than how we were creating the sound bites to push (Republicans) back and take a whack at them," Manley said.
    If Jobs Day presents a reliable once-a-month opportunity for partisan jockeying on Capitol Hill, it's an equally important chance for the White House to communicate with the public about the state of the economy.
    That task, too, has become simpler in the past few years as the economy has come out of the depths of the financial crisis.
    "The first quarter of 2009 when I worked for the White House and used to go out and talk to the TV cameras when we were hemorrhaging employment to the tune of hundreds of thousands of jobs a month -- that was an extremely sensitive moment," said Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. "It was incredibly challenging."
    It's not just Washington that obsesses over Jobs Day. Economists and financial analysts in New York have their own set of routines for the first Friday of the month.
    One consistent task is predicting how many jobs were created in the previous month and where the unemployment rate stands. In research notes circulated to clients and financial reporters each month, analysts make their bets and wait for the report to come out at 8:30.
    Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics and a staple of Jobs Day coverage on cable news, says he considers it a good day when his payroll gains estimate comes within 40,000 jobs of reality.
    "It's amazing how much energy I spend on that number," he said. "I want to hit that number."
    The prediction game is easily one of his favorite — and strangely nerve-racking — aspects of waiting for the jobs report every month.
    "It's almost as if my reputation is dependent on me getting that number right," said Zandi. "My heart is pounding before the report comes out. It's really bizarre."