Those Pesky Job Numbers

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 7, 2012

Mitt Romney’s chief complaint about Barack Obama is that while the president did not cause the recession, he has not done enough to ease its impact, or to get America back on track with impressive GDP and job growth numbers. To be absolutely fair to the president, he has relatively little control over the economy, and as Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have pointed out, it takes a lot longer for the employment market and the economy in general to recover from a financial crisis.

But hey, none of those explanations would have prevented Democrats from attacking a Republican president facing the current economic conditions, so I guess turnabout would be fair play if Romney decided to make an issue out of this:

A smaller than forecast addition of 120,000 jobs last month broke a pattern that was giving U.S. voters a growing sense of security and boosting President Barack Obama as Republican Mitt Romney attacked his economic record.

The Labor Department reported today that employers added 120,000 jobs in March, after an increase of 227,000 the previous month. It was the fewest jobs added in five months. Unemployment fell to 8.2 percent, the lowest since January 2009, from 8.3 percent.

Obama said “we welcome” the added jobs and the decline in the unemployment rate. The economy’s created more than 4 million private sector jobs in the past two years, more than 600,000 in the past three months, he said.

“But, it’s clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way and that we’ve got a lot more work to do,” the president said at a forum on women and the economy at the White House.

Romney said Obama has created a “stagnant” employment market.

“Millions of Americans are paying a high price for President Obama’s economic policies, and more and more people are growing so discouraged that they are dropping out of the labor force altogether,” the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement released by his campaign.

Today’s data showed unemployed workers left the labor force as Americans worked fewer hours and earned less on average per week.

“I’m nervous,” said Jared Bernstein, former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. The “downside surprise” may be “payback” for warm weather that boosted job creation in the early months of 2012, he said.

The unemployment rate has fallen to 8.2%, but that is attributable to the fact that workers have left the labor force, which means that the fall in the unemployment rate is a bad thing. The number of people now not in the labor force is almost 88 million, which is just a shocking statistic.

The numbers may go back and forth in months to come, but it is clear that despite the efforts on the part of the president’s allies to encourage an uptick in economic optimism, people have reasons to continue to be seriously concerned about the state of the economy. And that is why Mitt Romney, a candidate who has not yet hit his stride, and who still has other Republican challengers preventing him from fully going after Barack Obama, is still quite competitive with the president. Democrats may pretend to laugh off the Romney candidacy, but they should be very worried indeed.

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