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New US jobless numbers leave many questions

The recent U.S. unemployment numbers look good on the surface, but a closer look reveals more questions than answers about the state of this country’s workforce.

At first glance, the numbers released last week by the Labor Department look as hopeful as we could expect only several years after the Great Recession struck. U.S. unemployment fell to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent and the economy gained 223,000 jobs last month.

It’s the lowest unemployment rate since April 2008. In 2009, that rate skyrocketed to 10 percent.

But experts remain cautiously optimistic, because the number of people looking for work also dropped to a 38-year low. Once people give up on their job search, the government doesn’t count them as unemployed.

That will skew the numbers a bit. Additionally, wages have not shown much improvement.

Fortunately, auto and home sales have increased, and Americans in general are spending more.

Even though so many people have stopped looking for employment, maybe the situation is not as dire as it seems. Maybe some households have decided they don’t need another source of income. Maybe those people not looking for work want to be stay-at-home mothers or fathers. Or maybe they decided to go back to school.

We don’t know for certain, and we’d feel a lot more comfortable once wages improved and more jobs are filled, but at least things seem to be headed in the right direction.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez told the Washington Post this month that the country had the strongest two-year job growth since the Clinton administration.

“The challenge for us is, we’re digging out of a much deeper hole,” he said.

That’s why all we can do is just keep digging.