A silver lining in May jobs report for President Obama

President Obama continues to struggle to recover politically from a disastrous May jobs report that showed that just 69,000 jobs were created in the month while the national unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2 percent.


In a June 8, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama talks about the economy, in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Late last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its state by state jobs report for May — and in so doing handed Obama and his campaign team a bit of a silver lining when in comes the politics of the economy. (You know what they say: “The BLS giveth and the BLS taketh away.” What? They don’t say that?)

The state-by-state report makes clear that while the unemployment picture nationally remains gloomy, the story in many of the swing states — where Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will spend the vast majority of their time and money between now and November — is either a) brighter or b) moving in that direction.

Of the 28 states that showed statistically significant movement — up or down — in their unemployment rate between May 2011 and May 2012, one in four are swing states.

That includes Florida where the unemployment rate has dropped two points over the past year, North Carolina (down 1.5 points) and Iowa (down .9).

Here’s a look at the seven swing(ish) states — Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin — where the unemployment rate has experienced a statistically significant change since May 2011.


To be clear, while the unemployment rate has dropped in Florida (8.6 percent), Nevada (11.6 percent), North Carolina (9.4 percent) and Michigan (8.5 percent), it remains above the national average in each of that quartet of states.

But, as we have argued regarding the politics of the national unemployment rate, the trend line — up or down — is more important than the actual number. If people in a certain state feel like things are getting better for them, then Obama’s argument that well, things are — slowly but surely — getting better, might take root.

That’s why this chart, which details the unemployment rate over the first three-plus years of his presidency, has always been Obama’s best friend when it comes to winning the economic argument in November:


The problem for Obama, of course, is if the unemployment rate either stalls or spikes this summer — as it has in each of the past three. If that trend repeats itself, the general sentiment in the electorate heading into Labor Day — when voter perceptions tend to begin to congeal — could well be politically toxic for the incumbent.

Still, remember that presidential elections are national in name only. In reality, who the next president will be decided by voters in a handful of swing states — many of which have experience a significant decline in their unemployment rate over the last year. That’s a piece of good news for President Obama amid a steady stream of economic headlines of late.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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