President Harry Truman used to say he was looking for a “one-handed economist.”

That’s because every time an expert brought him a piece of good news, it was followed by the words, “but on the other hand “

That’s how we feel looking at the latest job numbers in Maine and the nation.

On the one hand, it’s good news to be seeing a trend of real growth in employment far ahead of what had been predicted. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the economy gained 573,000 jobs in April, while Maine economists count an increase of 30,000 jobs in the same month.

That’s about half a year sooner than the state’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission predicted growth, and its chairman, University of Southern Maine’s Charles Colgan, attributes the quicker turnaround to the effect of federal stimulus spending.

But on the other hand …

Not all the news is so rosy. The job gains have not lowered the national unemployment rate (which actually went from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent when formerly discouraged workers re-entered the job market).

And there is a national trend that is really disturbing. Despite the good news about the number of jobs, the number of people who have been out of work six months or longer keeps going up as well. This is particularly difficult for older workers, who, according the AARP Public Policy Institute, stay out of work far longer than younger workers.

The unemployment safety net provides short-term help for people in transition and is not built for those who have been left behind by the economy. Existing programs are not reaching the long-term unemployed workers, especially those in their 50s and 60s who would like to get back into jobs but have not been able to.

These concerns should stay on lawmakers minds as this fragile recovery keeps moving forward. It’s good to celebrate the promising job numbers for some people, as long as we remember those “on the other hand.”


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