Today’s new jobs numbers are important because they show that we’ve crossed two key thresholds: Unemployment is now below eight percent; and it’s also below where it was when Obama took office.
No question, the new normal remains unacceptable. Millions of people are still suffering, and the economic challenges that lie ahead are immense. But in political terms, those two thresholds are important, because they allow Obama to argue more forcefully than he has been able to thus far that we are on a path to recovery.
For a long time, many Democrats believed Obama had to tread carefully with that argument, out of fear that it would alienate swing voters who are not feeling the recovery yet. But clearing those hurdles — plus the fact that rising numbers of voters are telling pollsters that the economy is recovering — will make it easier for Obama to make the case that the country is moving forward.
Here is Obama in Virginia today:
The case that we are recovering is absolutely crucial for Obama to make, not just because it enables him to defend his economic record, but also because it lays the groundwork for the argument that changing leadership now risks upending the fragile progress we have made. Obama did that today.
That said, I think Obama’s message here falls a bit short. He needs to paint a clearer picture of how far we’ve come since the depths of the crisis. Yes, he referenced the fact that the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month when he took office. But the trajectory of the unemployment rate itself can also be used to illustrate the point.
Take a look at the chart Chris Cillizza posted today. It shows that the unemployment rate spiked to around 10 percent during the first year of Obama’s term, and has steadily plummeted since. Obama needs to make this clearer to people. He needs to say that the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month when he took office, and that unemployment peaked at a horrific 10 percent early in his term as the economy bottomed out, and that on his watch, the rate has steadily come down to the point where it is lower than when he took office. That’s a way of putting today’s unemployment picture in a clearer context, which is absolutely necessary, since — let's face it — that picture is still pretty bleak.