TERRE HAUTE —
It takes willpower of Herculean strength to rationally digest any form of national news — positive or negative — in this current political season. Every topic seems to possess campaign implications.
Accepting that reality, the monthly jobs report issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor offered good news for, seemingly, all Americans.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September. It stood at 8.1 percent in August, and — this time — the improved number was not the result of more Americans giving up their job search and falling out of the labor force statistics. Instead, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s jobless rate was able to show improvement, even though 418,000 more people entered the workforce.
In the government’s survey of employers, they created 114,000 new jobs last month. Important as those employment opportunities are to the American economy, the level of job creation necessary to match population growth is around 125,000 a month. So, the numbers are far from glowing.
Still, the drop of the unemployment rate below the 8-percent mark is notable. The 7.8-percent rate is the lowest since January 2009, when the Great Recession was beginning to infiltrate almost every sector of the economy.
Of course, January 2009, was also the moment when President Obama took office. The campaigns of both the president and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney were connecting the dots between the last 7.8-percent unemployment picture in ’09 and Friday’s numbers.
On a campaign stop Friday in Virginia, Obama said, according to a Washington Post report, “This morning, we found out the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest level since I took office. More Americans entered the workforce, more people are getting jobs. Now, every month reminds us we’ve still got too many of our friends and neighbors looking for work, too many middle-class families struggling to pay bills.”
Romney, also in Virginia, countered, saying in the same Post report, “The reason [the jobless rate] has come down is primarily due to the fact that more people have just stopped looking for work. … If the same share of people were participating in the workforce today as on the day the president got elected, our unemployment rate would be around 11 percent.”
Another Republican, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, acknowledged the “encouraging news,” but added, “it simply isn’t good enough.”
As voters, Americans can choose from those two political viewpoints. As Cantor pointed out, a 7.8-percent unemployment rate “should not be cause for celebration.” Romney’s camp continues to contend that any improvement in the economy under Obama has come far too slowly, and that the glacial recovery has been thwarted by the president’s policies.
Obama makes his case with the reminder that the tailspin he inherited sent the nation into an economic pit deeper than any other since the Depression, and the climb out of that hole could not be completed in two or three years. Steady growth toward a healthier, wiser economy is happening, as frustratingly slow as its been.
Regardless, both sides acknowledged the bottom-line reality — the latest jobs report shows a step in the right direction. The politicos can argue whether it was a baby step, or a healthy stride forward.