August's weak jobs report: Does it undermine Obama's campaign message?

Obama leaves Charlotte on a high note after a successful Democratic National Convention — but grim economic news could bring him crashing down to Earth

An 8.1 percent unemployment rate is nothing to brag about, which is why President Obama will likely avoid mentioning that figure on the campaign trail.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the economy added a measly 96,000 jobs in August, a sobering reminder that the stalled economy remains stuck in neutral. The unemployment rate did fall to 8.1 percent — down from 8.3 percent in July — but that was only because more than 350,000 people gave up looking for work and were not counted as part of the labor force. The disheartening numbers come the morning after President Obama accepted his party's nomination for a second term, ending a boisterous convention with a workmanlike speech in which he argued that the country is making progress under his economic policies. Obama also asked for patience, saying that "it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up for decades." Does the jobs report undermine his case for re-election?

Yes. The economy isn't getting better: "The party's over — and now Democrats are waking up with a hangover," says Frank Quaratiello at The Boston Herald. With a jobless rate of 8.1 percent, "no amount of Bill Clinton's arithmetic can hide the fact that since President Obama took office in January 2009, he has barely been able to move that number — except up." No matter how Obama spins the state of the economy, he can't escape the cold hard facts.

"Jobless numbers don't lie"

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No. Voters already know the economy is weak: The "economic context of the election," captured in Obama's speech, "is pretty much set in stone by now," says Jonathan Bernstein at The Washington Post. The economy is in the midst of recovery, "but not a particularly lively one." The jobs report, while disappointing, isn't so bad that it could alter the essential dynamics of the race, which will hinge on the effectiveness of campaign advertisements, get-out-the-vote operations, and media events like the conventions.

"Disappointing jobs report unlikely to change presidential contest"

Still, this is an opening for Romney: The jobs report is a "blunt reminder of the forces working against" Obama, says Jim Rutenberg at The New York Times. Obama's speech pointed toward a better future, but he can't escape "the more troublesome reality of the moment for voters as they ponder [Mitt] Romney's question about whether they are better off than four years ago." Expect Romney to "use his well-financed general election bank" to "hammer home the message that Mr. Obama had his chance and failed."

"Joblessness may undermine Obama convention bump"

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