The news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning that the economy added just 80,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate stayed stuck at 8.2 percent suggests that any hope that President Obama will be able to run for reelection bolstered by an improving financial picture is rapidly disappearing.
This is the third straight month in which the jobs report has underwhelmed. The 80,000 jobs added — well below expectations in the run-up to this morning’s report — comes after the economy added 68,000 and 77,0000 jobs in April and May, respectively. June’s 8.2 percent unemployment rate is the same as it was in May and a slight bump up from the 8.1 percent rate in April.
That three-month view suggests that June may be less an anomaly in a broader period of (slow)economic recovery than an indication of the new normal in a period of economic flatness.
And, remember that when it comes to the economy, it’s the trend line that matters. Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 not because the unemployment rate was at 7.4 percent but because that number represented a precipitous dropoff from where it had been 18 months earlier. Worth noting: No president since World War II has won re-election with the unemployment rate higher than 7.4 percent.
The last three months of jobs report suggests that the trend line on the economy is working against Obama — repeating a summer swoon that he has struggled with in each of his first three years in office.
To simply drop the unemployment rate below 8 percent before election day, the economy will need to add 219,000 jobs in each of the four jobs reports between now and then — a prospect that, given the last three months, seems very unlikely.
Compounding Obama’s problems is that there are — at most — two more jobs reports that have the ability to impact the economic narrative heading into the election. (How people feel on Labor Day about the political climate is usually how they feel in November — barring some sort of major upheaval.)
If the July and August reports — due out on the first Fridays of the following months — are as weak as the April/May/June reports have been, it’s hard to see how Obama can sell a “things are getting better” message to economically-anxious independent voters.
None of the above means President Obama can’t win re-election on November 6. But, what it does mean is that unless the July and August jobs reports show that the economy has begun moving again, Obama will have to make history (again) to win.