The depressing job numbers for December underscore the fragility of the economic recovery. They also reinforce the urgency for Congress to take steps to help the jobless and the poor, stimulate public and private investment and avoid making the situation worse.
The addition of just 74,000 jobs last month is far short of expectations and cannot be written off as the result of bad weather in much of the country. One month is only a snapshot, but the number of workers under 55 who are dropping out of the workforce is worrisome and reflects the weakness of the job market.
With so many Americans clearly still struggling, Congress has even more reason to approve another three months of extended unemployment benefits and to raise the federal minimum wage. It also should avoid the deep cuts to food stamps that Republicans propose, and it should work with the Obama administration to create more jobs by investing in badly needed infrastructure.
The drop in the national unemployment rate from 7 percent to 6.7 percent is misleading, because it is mainly the result of so many people dropping out of the workforce in frustration after failing to find jobs. The labor force is more than a half-million workers smaller than it was a year ago. Perhaps December was just a speed bump in the recovery, but the Federal Reserve should be cautious about reducing its stimulus effort until it is clear 2014 is headed in the right direction.