President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.,Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, en route to Martha's Vineyard for a family vacation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

One in an occasional series of posts looking at the most important number in politics; check out past “MINP’s” here.


Forget the 9.1. percent unemployment rate. The key number Friday morning was zero — as in, the economy created roughly zero new jobs in the month of August.

While the unemployment rate is often seen as the leading indicator of the country’s economic health, the fact that the economy created a net of zero jobs in August is particularly troublesome for President Obama — and creates a pretty easy message for the GOP on the eve of the president’s jobs speech.

Over the course of the next week, that zero is effectively going to be hung around the president’s neck, and it’s only going to up the ante for what was already, arguably, the biggest speech of his presidency.

2012 Republicans presidential candidates and their allies were quick to seize on the big goose egg after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the disappointing August job data .

The Republican National Committee has already sent a release labeling Obama, “President Zero.”


New GOP frontrunner and Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared that the “poor national jobs picture stands in stark contrast” to the Lone Star State, which he called the “top job-producing state in the

Mitt Romney cited the jobs report as “further proof that the president has failed.” The former businessman pointed to his own release of his jobs plan next week for an alternative.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) described the economy as sitting at a “huge stop sign” and derided Obama’s plans to address a joint session of Congress next week.

“The American people don't need speeches, they need jobs,” she said from Urbandale, Ill.

Former Utah governor and 2012 candidate Jon Huntsman, likewise, focused on the zero when he reacted to the jobs report: “In a country with 307 million people, zero job growth is unfathomable.”

And businessman Herman Cain, as he often does, said it most poetically: “Sadly, the fact that zero jobs were created last month is only fitting for this administration, which is led by a president with zero leadership, zero plans, zero results and zero understanding of basic economics.”

To the RNC, Huntsman and Cain, the still-high unemployment rate was secondary. This is about zero.

But why is zero so troublesome?

The reason zero is such a potent number is that it’s so simple. It is (literally) a round number.

If the economy had instead made 10,000 jobs last month, the Obama administration could argue — with some difficulty, admittedly — that it was still creating jobs, just not as fast as it would like. This has been the company line for a while now, and while it hasn’t gotten the White House very far — the president’s approval rating on the economy has continued to drop — it has kept the White House in the game, so to speak.

Instead, the zero completely crystallizes the lack of any real economic growth, with the announcement that zero jobs were created in August effectively portraying the engines as stopping.

And for a president in need of credibility on the eve of one of the biggest speeches of his political career, it’s completely unhelpful.

It is the first time in about a year that the economy hasn’t created jobs, and it’s another month in which the report fell below what were pretty modest (bleak?) expectations. Experts predicted anywhere between 60,000 and 75,000 new jobs. Instead, they got zero.

Obama, who is already a veteran of some of the toughest political battles in recent memory, now faces perhaps his biggest oratorical fight in recent years. Here is a president who has already pushed through an $800 billion stimulus bill and doesn’t have much to show for it — other than trying to explain that it averted a much-worse crisis.

But the American people don’t know whether things would have actually been worse. What they are convinced of, is that they’re not getting better.

And zero makes that all the clearer.

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