Bleak U.S. jobs report bad news for Obama campaign
Published Friday, June 1, 2012 2:25PM EDT
WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama's reelection campaign was smacked by a poor new economic report Friday that said U.S. employers created just 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in a year, and the unemployment rate rose for the first time in 11 months.
The nation's monthly jobless rate -- disclosed the first Friday of every month -- is this year's dominant economic barometer. It's also a baseline from which to gauge the political fortunes of Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney ahead of a November election that rides on the pace of a post-recession recovery.
Romney said the jobs report is "devastating news" for workers and their families.
"It seems like we've been moving backward. We can do so much better in America," Romney said in a statement.
The new report is the first since Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination. It also came as Obama was in Minnesota to push his proposal to expand job opportunities for military veterans and to raise money for his campaign.
"We knew there would be ups and downs," Obama told an audience Friday afternoon, while trying to put some blame on Congress.
In the meantime, the world anxiously awaits the impact of the European debt crisis, which could stall the recovery in the U.S.
The unemployment rose to 8.2 per cent in May. No president since the Great Depression has sought re-election with unemployment as high as that, and past incumbents have lost when the unemployment rate was on the rise.
Romney wants this election to be a referendum on Obama's 3 1/2 years in office. Obama wants it to be a choice between two distinct visions for the country.
While imprecise and a typically lagging indicator of economic performance, the unemployment number is nevertheless an undeniable marker of the human cost of a weak economy.
Obama has been counting on an unemployment trajectory that has fallen from a high of 10 per cent in October 2009 to 8.1 per cent in April. The president likes to point to the 3.8 million jobs created since he became president, though 12.5 million remain unemployed. And his campaign has mounted a step-by-step assault on Romney's economic record, from his days as a venture capitalist to his tenure as Massachusetts governor from 2003-2007.
"The imperative for an incumbent president is to define the race as a choice," said Matt Bennett of the centrist-Democratic group Third Way. "Part of doing that is to define yourself. Equally important, you have to define the other side so as to avoid it becoming a referendum on the president."
Romney has aimed heavily at Obama's economic policies, arguing that they have slowed the recovery, not aided it. The Republican has emphasized his background in private business to argue that he's qualified to lead a nation in economic turmoil.
On Friday, the Obama campaign released a new online video featuring several of Romney's former Republican political foes, including Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, criticizing Romney's economic record.
For its part, the Romney campaign on Friday released a new television ad declaring that a Romney presidency would focus from the start on the economy and the deficit, unleash U.S. energy resources, and stand up to China on trade. "President Romney's leadership puts jobs first," the ad states.
Obama could face the highest unemployment rate on Election Day of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But his aides argue that the trend line is more important than the actual number. Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan as unemployment climbed from 6 per cent to 7.5 per cent. George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 as unemployment rose from 6.9 per cent to 7.6 per cent.
But while Reagan faced an unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent in October 1984, the rate had been dropping since the spring of 1983. He went on to win re-election.
An Associated Press-GfK poll in May showed that 52 per cent of those surveyed disapproved of Obama's handling of the economy while 46 per cent approved.
Some Republicans note that even though employers might be hiring, many workers have had to settle for less.
"They are gainfully employed, but they are not happy," said Wes Anderson, a Republican pollster. "They don't like the job they're in and they're making less money."
And that, Republicans say, makes these voters a prime target for Romney.