The July 2011 unemployment numbers are out. The Wall Street Journal notes: “Nonfarm payrolls rose by 117,000 last month as private-sector employers added 154,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. Payroll data for the previous two months were revised up by a total 56,000 to show increases of 46,000 jobs in June and 53,000 in May. The unemployment rate, which is obtained from a separate household survey, dropped to 9.1% last month from 9.2% in June. That still leaves almost 14 million Americans who would like to work without a job.” Moreover, “The jobs report Friday showed 44.4% of unemployed Americans, or 6.2 million people, were out of work for more than six months in July.”

To put this in context, Matt McDonald, a former Bush administration aide and now a communications and governmental affairs consultant, has crunched the numbers and found that in order to get down to 8 percent unemployment by Election Day, we would have to add 272,000 jobs per month. To get down to 8.5 percent, we would need 220,000 jobs per month. There is no indication whatsoever that we are generating jobs anywhere near those amounts.

Each of the presidential contenders is out with a statement blasting the president’s record on jobs. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) had a long statement, including this: “This week the President announced that he would again pivot to focus his attention on jobs. We can only hope he will pivot away from his failed economic policies that have killed growth and put millions of Americans out of work.” Mitt Romney had this: “Today’s unemployment report represents the 30th straight month that the jobless rate has been above 8 percent. The administration promised with their $800 billion stimulus that they would keep unemployment below that number. When you see what this president has done to the economy in just three years, you know why America doesn’t want to find out what he can do in eight.” Jon Huntsman struck a similar theme: “The President has had 2.5 years to turn around the American economy and it is clear he has failed. In less than one day, Americans have witnessed a considerable drop in the stock market and yet another jobs report showing an unemployment rate above 9%. . . . America needs a President who knows how to create an economic environment that allows entrepreneurs to thrive and create jobs. This country will never realize its true economic potential until we enact tax cuts, implement regulatory reform and move toward energy independence.”

Aside from the obvious political peril in which President Obama finds himself, he has a serious policy problem. His itty-bitty job ideas (e.g., patent reform) are laughable. And he keeps telling us that he wants the supercommittee to raise taxes. That seems ludicrous as the economy sputters.

Won’t the weak economic and high unemployment force Obama to quash tax-hike rhetoric? Brad Daypsring, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) isn’t very optimistic on that front. He e-mailed: “It hasn’t stopped him from trying thus far, despite two dozen claims of ‘pivoting to jobs.’ The only period in which the President appeared to stop pushing for tax hikes was between election day 2010 and the New Year.” He explains: “People understand the disingenuousness of the President’s class warfare rhetoric, and understand that when he says ‘millionaires and billionaires,’ he is actually talking about small business owners, entrepreneurs, families, and people making over $200-250,000 per year. The President can’t ‘pivot to jobs’ and then tie the hands and penalize the very people that he expects to create them.”

As to whether Obama will shed his tax-hike fetish, Don Stewart, communications director for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says, “We agree with what the President has said about how a recession is the wrong time to raise taxes, and with what he said in December: lower taxes mean more opportunities for job creation. So if you care about job creation, this is the wrong time to be raising taxes.”

But, for now, the White House has, to put it mildly, a messaging problem. After two and a half years of claims by the White House that Obama “saved or created” millions (!) of jobs, press secretary Jay Carney, now insists, “The White House doesn’t create jobs . . . the government, together — White House, Congress — creates policies that allow for greater job creation.” Well, the White House isn’t doing that either.

Yes, the jobs numbers could have been even worse, but they are bad enough. And Obama has a huge political and policy challenge, namely how to make the economy much better very fast while disclaiming responsibility for the dismal jobs picture.