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New US job figures bad news for Obama

The failure to create as many new jobs as expected may affect President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
Last modified: 8 Sep 2012 00:22
US President Barack Obama [GALLO/GETTY]

The latest job figures in the US are not good news for President Barack Obama.

He was hoping for a triple whammy:

1. He’s had good economic news with the financial markets hitting their highest point in years off the back of the European bank bond bailout and business leaders in a survey by a right-leaning magazine supporting his plans for the economy.
2. Pundits are predicting a bounce from a party convention which to some seemed more dynamic and engaged than their Republicans rivals.
3. And the number of new jobs created in the US coming close to 200,000 in August.

Most campaigns would be happy with two out of three, but failure with the third exposes the president’s biggest weakness.

The number of new jobs created last month was just 96,000 - not even enough to cover the number of new people coming on to the labour market. The Obama campaign will seize on the headline figure which shows the unemployment rate has dropped from 8.3 per cent to 8.1 per cent. Not much of a reduction, but in the current campaign – a drop is a drop.

However, that also acknowledges that a large number of people are fed up with hunting for a job with no success, that they have stopped looking. In fact 368,000 people stopped looking for work.

Obama, in his first campaign stop since the convention, acknowledged that the jobless figure still haunts him. He told supporters in New Hampshire: "Businesses once again added jobs for the 30th month a row, a total of more than 4.6 million jobs. But that’s not good enough. We know it’s not good enough. We need to create more jobs, faster."

He’s not quite running out of time to sort things out – but the longer unemployment sticks at around 8 per cent, the more vulnerable he is.

He can hope people who pay only the briefest attention to the election campaign – apparently they do exist – see the headline figure and think the economy is heading in the right direction.

Mitt Romney and the Republicans though believe the figure shows the underlying weakness of Obama as president and his economic plan. At his campaign stop in Iowa in Friday, he reminded people that 4 years ago, candidate Obama promised an unemployment rate by the end of his first term of 5.7 per cent. The difference, he said, between that figure and today’s numbers means 9 million more Americans are unemployed. And you can expect Romney will mention the unemployment rate every day until November 6th.

The jobless totals are not fatal for Obama’s campaign – but they damage him.

He can argue he inherited a bad situation which has taken longer than expected to rectify, and he will step up attacks on the Republican side as a distraction.

Yet he’ll know high unemployment can kill a presidency. In fact only Franklin D Roosevelt has been re-elected with figures that were worse. That was during the Great Depression and the unemployment rate was in the mid 20s.

Obama will be hoping the September figure, due to be published in early October, is better. Much better. Or he won’t be discussing the problems of the unemployed. He’ll be one of them.