A Very Good Jobs Report for the Incumbent Obama
According to the Department of Labor, 243,000 jobs were added in January and the topline unemployment rate has dropped to 8.3 percent. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January, and the unemployment rate decreased to 8.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job growth was widespread in the private sector, with large employment gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. Government employment changed little over the month. […]
The unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in January to 8.3 percent; the rate has fallen by 0.8 point since August.
While in the grand scheme this is only modest growth for a heavily depressed economy, it is both better than expected and better than previous months. This is just decent news for the economy but very good news for the Obama campaign.
These new numbers are a real improvement and a significant drop in official unemployment. Often for an incumbent what is more important than the state of the economy is the direction of the economic trend in the months leading up to the election. This is another sign to which President Obama can point showing the economy is moving in the right direction, even if it is moving slowly. This sign of modest improvement will likely be an oft cited selling point for the Obama campaign.
Beyond the positive general trend, this particular drop of official unemployment to 8.3 percent is a significant image development for Obama. The official unemployment in February 2009 right after Obama’s first month in office was 8.3 percent. This is the first time the official unemployment number has again dropped that low. While the overall level of employment in many ways is worse now than it was in February 2009 due to the fact that a large number of people have given up on looking for work, it is the topline number people hear about most, not the complex metrics behind it.
A statement like, “unemployment today is still higher than when Obama took office” would have been a great one-liner in the debates and a powerful talking point to put in negative ads, but it doesn’t apply as easily with unemployment again down to 8.3 percent.