From the Democrats’ standpoint any job number that shows a decline in the unemployment rate is good news. And certainly 8.6 percent unemployment is better than 9 percent. But not really, when you look closely at how we got there.
The more startling figure is 315,000 — the number of workers who dropped out of the job market. Matt McDonald, a former Bush official and now a communications consultant, explains, “A little over half of the decline is due to people dropping out of the labor force, and a further decline in the workforce participation rate to 64 percent, a level last seen in 1983 when the trend of women entering the workforce was still driving participation up.” Had workforce participation not dropped steeply in the last few months the rate would be 8.9 percent. As we get closer to the election, the news could actually worsen for the administration, as McDonald explains: “After the dust settles in the coming months, we are likely to see a repeat of the beginning of this year when the unemployed rate briefly dipped below 9 percent, only to rise again when discouraged workers started looking for jobs.”
It is not surprising then that GOP presidential candidates continued to pound away. Mitt Romney’s statement was typical:
Today’s unemployment figures bring to 34 the number of months that unemployment in the United States has been over 8 percent, the longest such spell since the Great Depression. The Obama administration may have come to accept such a high level of joblessness as the new normal. I will never accept it. To me, the fact that so many millions of Americans are unemployed only highlights the urgent need for a fundamental change in the direction of our country. We can’t afford another year of President Obama’s failed economic policies. And we certainly can’t afford five more years. This is not exactly the hope and change that the American people bargained for.
Unless we see a miraculous and uninterrupted string job growth of 183,000 or more per month, or hordes leave the job market, the unemployment rate will be above 8.5 percent on election day. The election will turn on jobs and economy, and it will need to brighten considerably before President Obama has something positive to say about his economic record.