US President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, locked in a super-tight US presidential race, both argued that numbers in the latest jobs report bolster their position that they are best equipped to fix the US’ economy.
The latest numbers showed monthly job creation was higher than expected — but unemployment also increased. That gave each candidate political room to see only what he wanted and to stick with the fundamental economic argument that he thinks will win the White House.
The numbers came exactly three months shy of election day.
“It’s another hammer blow to the struggling middle-class families of America,” Romney said of the pace of job growth, assailing Obama’s record from a Las Vegas trucking business.
At the White House, Obama surrounded himself with some of those families, playing up the 29 straight months that private employers have added jobs.
“Those are our neighbors and families finding work,” Obama said. “But, let’s acknowledge, we’ve still got too many folks out there who are looking for work.”
The US economy is stuck and not growing enough to reduce unemployment or make people feel better. No signs of help are coming from a gridlocked US Congress, or from the Federal Reserve, or from US allies mired in their own problems as the world economy suffers.
That means the economy voters have now may be the one they get when it is time to pick a president.
The bright spot: Employers added 163,000 jobs last month, more than double that in June. Yet the politically important unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent, a notch above June’s 8.2 percent.
Only three such jobs reports remain before the election: One in September, the day after Obama speaks at the Democratic National Convention; one in October shortly after the two men debate on the economy; and one in November four days before the election.
Whatever the monthly ups and downs, the big picture shows that the largest economy in the world has yet to take off: The 151,000 jobs added on average each month this year is almost the same monthly average as last year.
No economic recovery since World War II has been weaker than the current rebound from the recession that ended in June 2009.
A “status-quo” economy means the campaign arguments and strategies are not changing, either.
Obama and Romney will keep punching it out in largely negative advertising and personal appearances in about eight states expected to determine the state-by-state election’s outcome. Much of the rest of the US will be left to give money, volunteer or watch from the sidelines.
Obama’s locked-in message is about asking the richest in the US to pay higher taxes, extending tax cuts for the middle class, and promising long-term economic growth by putting public money into education, energy and research. He has seized on a report that concluded Romney’s plan would raise middle-class taxes.
Meanwhile, Romney’s aides have long believed only a dramatic uptick in the economy could hurt his chances and force a broad change in messaging.
So one month of stronger-than-expected job growth did nothing to alter Romney’s case that “America can do better.” Capitalizing on an Obama vulnerability — public disapproval of the president’s handling of the economy — Romney portrays himself as the agent of change with the business background for the demands of the day.