The news that the unemployment rate dropped below eight percent in September — the first time it has dipped under that mark since January 2009 — is a much-need silver lining in a very cloudy week for President Obama.
While the intricacies of the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report will continue to be hashed out by economists, the political reality is simple: No longer can Republicans say that the president has overseen an unemployment rate over eight percent for the entirety of his presidency — as Mitt Romney has done in virtually every stump speech he has given since becoming the GOP nominee.
To be clear: A 7.8 percent unemployment rate the month before Obama stands for re-election is far from what he and his political advisers dreamed of when he took office. But, in politics, context and trend lines feed perception — and perception (particularly when it comes to the economy) often matters more than reality. And, President Obama now has a positive trend line — not to mention a good talking point — on which to hang his re-election hat. (Do those exist?)
Here’s a chart detailing the unemployment rate since Obama took office:
The positive political news on the jobs report couldn’t come at a better time for Obama who had been reeling since a decidedly underwhelming debate performance on Wednesday night in which he failed to a) effectively defend his handling of the economy and b) make the case against Romney as the right choice to lead the economy to a better place.
While Obama clearly can use the jobs report to pull himself out of the mini-tailspin created by his poor debate performance, it’s less clear how much impact the numbers will have on actual voters.
There has been increasing levels of confidence in the country’s direction in recent weeks despite little evidence among economic indicators that things are clearly getting better in terms of the country’s financial health. The Gallup economic confidence index has been trending up for the past month and is close to its highest level in the last four years, and the number of Americans who say the country is on the “right track” has also risen in recent months, according to Washington Post-ABC News polling.
A report like this should — we repeat should — add to that growing confidence but it’s also possible that voters have made their minds up about what the state of the economy is and no external forces will influence that calculation.
Putting all of that aside, today is a much-needed good day for President Obama.