President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Cleveland State University, Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Updated: November 7, 2012 6:14AM
The monthly jobs report out Friday — unemployment down to 7.8 percent, the lowest of his presidency — was a shot of great news for President Barack Obama as Mitt Romney continues to slam him for the slow rate of economic recovery.
Underscore this: There is a recovery.
Job creation is one of the defining issues of the Obama-Romney contest, and the uptick — welcomed by the Obama team — hardly takes Obama’s record as a job creator off the Romney table. Both Romney and Obama stumped Friday in Virginia, a battleground state. Romney mentioned jobs or job 28 times in his speech; Obama referred to jobs or job 13 times.
Obama — who flunked Wednesday’s first debate with Romney mainly on style — would have faced a second beating if the jobs numbers had ticked up. There is one more jobless report out before Election Day (on Nov. 2) so Obama can only go so far in bragging about a turn-around, in case there is a surprise.
The 7.8 percent for September was the lowest since Obama was sworn into office on that cold January day in 2009, and follows a drop from 8.3 percent in August and 8.1 percent in July.
Whole numbers give more texture than just a percentage: In September, 12.1 million people were unemployed and 11 million underemployed.
The Obama team likes to start the clock a year in, to give time to let Obama’s stimulus and other policies soak through the economy:
♦ In February 2010, there were 106,773,000 people with private-sector jobs.
♦ In September 2012, there were 111,952,000 people with private-sector jobs, a gain of 5,179,000 jobs on Obama’s watch.
Romney has promised — without much detail — to create 12 million jobs if president. He never has said what a jobless rate would be in a Romney administration.
Politically what is significant is this: Obama had pledged to keep the jobless rate below 8 percent. Making that projection might have seemed a fine idea a few years ago when Obama made it, but his rivals have been using it to hang him. They have seized on this number to drum home their message that Obama could not meet his self-imposed benchmark.
Now he did.
Obama was stumping in Fairfax, Va., on Friday, a Washington suburb in a battleground state. The president, whose re-election slogan is “Forward,” said: “We’re moving forward. Now, after losing about 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, our businesses have now added 5.2 million new jobs over the past two and a half years. This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office. More Americans entered the work force. More people are getting jobs.”
Obama acknowledged that many people have been left out of the economic recovery — as he stressed that the trend is in the right direction.
“Now, every month reminds us that we’ve still got too many of our friends and neighbors who are looking for work. And there are too many middle-class families that are still struggling to pay the bills — they were struggling long before the crisis hit. But today’s news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It’s a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now. “
During the debate, one of the Romney lines of attack that I thought was potent was taking on Obama over his priorities — that he spent more political capital on ramming through his health care law with only Democratic votes —than on negotiating with Republicans on jobs measures.
Romney returned to that theme in Virginia on Friday, reacting to the jobs report and referring to the Wednesday debate in Denver.
“I got the chance to ask the president some questions that people — I think people across the country have wanted to ask the president, such as why — why it was that when America was needing jobs so badly, he was pushing for ObamaCare instead of working to get jobs for the American people.
“Got the chance to ask him why there’s still 23 million Americans that are out of work or have stopped looking for work, struggling to find good full-time jobs,” Romney said.
Job creation may well come up when Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan hold their one debate Thursday at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
COOKING THE NUMBERS: NOT
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch accused the Obama team of cooking the jobs numbers to bolster Obama’s re-election prospects — with not a shred of evidence and slurring Chicago at the same time. Welch’s Friday Tweet shot through social media:
“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers”
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest asked about this at the Friday briefing called Welch’s Twitter attack “utter nonsense.”
Career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington compile the statistics. Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow wrote a fascinating story last March about how they work in secrecy.
When it comes to unbelievable, that would be Welch.