The final monthly jobs report before Tuesday’s general election contained something for both President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney to work into their closing arguments to voters.
For Obama, it was the news that the economy in October created significantly more jobs — 171,000 — than many economists had forecast. And the Labor Department revised upward the job numbers for September and August, suggesting even more underlying strength in the economy than earlier appeared to be the case.
Furthermore, though the jobless rate ticked up a tenth of a percentage point to 7.9 percent, it was still under the psychologically important threshold of 8 percent — on balance a positive for Obama.
But it was the slight increase in the unemployment rate that gave Romney more fodder for his argument that Obama’s policies had gotten in the way of a more robust economic revival. In a statement, Romney said:
“Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill. The jobless rate is higher than it was when President Obama took office, and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work. On Tuesday, America will make a choice between stagnation and prosperity.”
“For four years, President Obama’s policies have crushed America’s middle class. For four years, President Obama has told us that things are getting better and that we’re making progress. For too many American families, those words ring hollow. We can do better. We can have real economic growth, create millions of good-paying jobs, and give middle-class families the security and opportunity they deserve. When I’m president, I’m going to make real changes that lead to a real recovery, so that the next four years are better than the last.”
Speaking for the administration, Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers previewed the sort of comments voters were likely to hear from the president between now and Election Day. In a statement, he said:
“While more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007.”
Because Friday’s news essentially continues the trend of private-sector job creation that is nearly three years old and demonstrates that the economy is steadily if slowly improving, the report is unlikely to change the trajectory of the presidential race.
Experts on presidential elections generally agree that voters have by and large made up their minds by this stage about how they feel the president has handled the economy for the report to make much of a difference.
That is especially true as an ever increasing amount of critical swing-state votes are cast well before the issuance of the final employment report from the Labor Department.
But on balance, the report had more good news than bad for Obama. In addition to unexpectedly strong job creation for October and revisions of September and August, the labor force participation was higher, an indication that more people were feeling confident about finding work. That’s what nudged the jobless rate up.
Also, there was a drop in the number of part-time workers who preferred to work full-time but couldn’t get jobs with the additional hours.
But that gets to a level of detail most voters don’t really care about. That’s what should allow Romney to add the slight upswing in the jobless rate in Friday’s report as one more arrow in the quiver of his rhetorical case against the president’s re-election.