Obama White House 'Surprised' by Recent Drops in Unemployment Rate

By Susan Jones | December 20, 2013 | 8:02 AM EST

Federal workers got a snow day as a mix of snow and freezing rain blanketed D.C. on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The nation's civilian unemployment rate has dropped from 7.6 percent in June to 7.0 percent in November -- a development that "surprised" the Obama White House.

"The unemployment rate over the last six months has surprised us by coming down more quickly than we had expected or than other forecasters had expected," Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters on Thursday.

"[I]t's come down by an average of one-tenth every month for six straight months, and that was -- you know, people expected something like that to happen over more like a year than a six-month period. So I think what you see a number of forecasters doing is saying, given what we've seen, you know, maybe we have to revise it going forward and assume it'll be lower."

Furman said the bipartisan budget deal will boost job creation by easing the sequester spending caps. "This replaces a substantial amount of the discretionary portion of the sequester, so the converse to that statement would also be true, that this budget agreement will help the economy add more jobs than it otherwise would have in 2014."

Conservative Republicans strongly oppose boosts in discretionary spending, saying the government already spends and wastes too much taxpayer money.

Although the unemployment rate is going in the right direction, Furman said "it's still unacceptably high" because of the number of long-term unemployed. He urged Congress to extend long-term unemployment benefits.

At Thursday's news conference, Furman said Obamacare, far from weighing on the economy, will help it in 2014.

"I think the Affordable Care Act has been helping the economy and will continue to help the economy. I think it has contributed to the slowdown in the overall growth of health costs, which is good for the competitiveness of American businesses.

"I think in 2014, when you have the exchange up and running, that that will further help labor markets by, for example, increasing the ability of workers to move from job to job, so they don't get locked into one job, just because of the health insurance, which improves mobility and increases productivity and entrepreneurship," Furman said.

"And finally, the Affordable Care Act is a key part of deficit reduction, especially over the medium and long term, where it's a much more significant source of deficit reduction over that horizon than the sequester is."