The September jobs report — 103,000 jobs created, unemployment rate steady at 9.1 percent — is neither good enough to provide President Obama a real boost as he makes the case for passage of his jobs bill nor bad enough to significantly embolden his Republican critics on the campaign trail and in Congress.
“This report is decent, but it’s also a bit of a dead cat bounce from a really bad series of summer jobs reports, so it seems better in comparison than in isolation,” said Matt McDonald, a Republican strategist who focuses on economic issues.
Democratic operative Paul Begala largely agreed. “Like the economy itself, the jobs number is stuck in neutral,” said Begala in an e-mail to the Fix. “It could be worse, but 103,000 [jobs] doesn’t even keep up with population growth.”
For the Obama Administration, even a scintilla of positive jobs news is a welcome change from months of totally stagnant job growth. (The August jobs number — ZERO jobs created — amounted to a political disaster for an Administration desperate to show some level of positive movement to a skeptical American public.)
And, not surprisingly, the Administration sought to use the jobs report to make a renewed push for the president’s American Jobs Act.
“Clearly, we need faster economic growth to put Americans back to work,” wrote Katharine Abraham, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers. “Today’s report underscores the President’s call for Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.”
Republicans, meanwhile, seized on the latest jobs report as further evidence that the Obama Administration’s approach to the economy simply isn’t working or, at a minimum, isn’t working fast enough.
“These sad numbers show that more Washington spending, threats of higher taxes on small businesses, and excessive government regulations don’t create a healthy environment for job growth,” said House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio).
The reality is that neither side holds much political high ground on the economy at the moment.
In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, more than six in ten (61 percent) disapprove of how President Obama is handling the economy while 76 percent disapprove of how Republicans in Congress are dealing with it.
And, when people were asked whether they trusted Obama or congressional Republicans more on the economy, the result was — you guessed it! — a push; 43 percent said they trusted Obama more, 42 percent congressional Republicans.
What that data suggests is that we are currently witnessing the late rounds of an economic boxing match between two pugilists neither of whom can knock the other guy out. And so, they are simply leaning on one another, hoping to conserve energy for their next major swing.
The fight over the jobs act — and, if it passes, what impact it actually has on the economy — is critical then to deciding who ultimately “wins” on the issue heading into 2012.
Obama must convince voters that even if things aren’t getting better in terms of the unemployment rate, his jobs act is an example of him trying to find solutions while Republican block the way.
In order to make that case, of course, Obama has to find a way, as we wrote yesterday, to get some semblance of his jobs act through the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“Obama needs to stay focused on passing the jobs bill and driving medium to long-term growth,” advised Matt Bennett, a Democrat affiliated with Third Way. “He should try to stay above the flurry of statistics-interpretations.”