Forget weak jobs report, this labor economist sees good things by Election Day

Labor market tightening: Mark Zandi
Santelli Exchange: Employment read
Hatzius: Next rate hike will be September
Pro: Market is right on 1 hike this year

Despite the weaker-than-expected April government jobs report, the nation's labor market should be at full employment by the Election Day, Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi said Friday.

Shortly before his comments, the Labor Department said the U.S. economy created only 160,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, well below the expected 202,000.

"My view, this means the labor market is still tightening," Zandi told CNBC's "Squawk Box." The April payrolls number is "still well above the 80K [or] 90K you need each month to absorb the working-age population," he added.

"I feel very confident that we are going to be at full employment, all in, all those part-timers who want hours, all those people who've stepped out and come back in, by Election Day," said Zandi.

Job seekers stand in a line at a career fair in Chicago.
Nonfarm payrolls: 160K jobs added, vs expected 202K

The April unemployment rate held steady, as expected, at 5 percent. Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, estimates that full employment is around 4.7 percent unemployment and said Friday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that while the signal from Friday's data was weaker, the economy is still slowly improving.

Other economists agreed, pointing to the increases in factors like weekly hours worked. One-tenth of an hour is the equivalent of 400,000 jobs in terms of labor demand, Edward Lazear, a labor economist and Stanford Business School professor, said on CNBC's "Squawk Alley."

"We are absolutely slowing down from a job growth perspective," Tom Porcelli, economist at RBC Capital Markets, told "Squawk on the Street." "People are making such a big deal about the all-knowing consensus, … But what's more compelling? The fact that we missed by 40,000? Or 145 million people saw a 0.3 percent increase in their wages? If you're trying to make an economic call, that's the thing you're supposed to hang your hat on."

Others were more pessimistic.

Kevin Hassett, a former Federal Reserve economist and ex-Romney economic policy advisor, argued the models show an even-worse scenario for the May data.

"The trajectory you're seeing is going to take us 120,000 [jobs] next time. And then it's going to start [lower]," said Hassett, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, on "Squawk Box." "We thought that based on the uncertainty models that we were going to get a really bad number today."

A former Obama economic advisor also took a negative view of the April jobs report.

President Obama: Economy adds 160k new jobs

"Growth hasn't been that good. Jobs have been going a lot better than growth has been going," said Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

"That's only possible because we've had these weird productivity numbers," said Goolsbee, professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "If productivity starts going back [up] to something like normal, the jobs numbers will get a lot worse."

Weak productivity helps explain the divergence between lackluster economic growth and a fairly robust labor market, Goolsbee said on "Squawk Box."

"GDP and jobs normally have a relationship. And that relationship has looked very strange lately," Goolsbee said.

— CNBC's Anita Balakrishnan and Reuters contributed to this report.