Treading Water: September Unemployment 7.8%, 114,000 Jobs Created

Treading Water: September Unemployment 7.8%, 114,000 Jobs Created

Unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent in September and 114,000 jobs were created, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics today. Much of the drop in the jobless rate was accounted for by revisions to past job numbers, not by new jobs created in September. 

As both CNN and MSNBC reported immediately after this morning’s release, these numbers fail to keep up with population growth–so the U.S. economy continues to tread water.

The job numbers met market expectations as the jobless rate dipped below 8 percent for the first time since the beginning of President Barack Obama’s term in office. Job numbers were revised upward by 86,000 for July and August, providing the main impetus for lowering the overall unemployment rate.

Had labor force participation remained the same as it was when Obama took office, the jobless rate would be 10.7% today.

The September gains came in health care, transportation, and warehousing, with jobs little changed in other areas, according to the federal government.

Stock futures had risen–a sign of how standards have shifted–in anticipation of a rise in unemployment from 8.1 to 8.2 percent, with 111,000 to 113,000 jobs created. 

Mainstream media analysts, looking for information favorable to the re-election prospects of President Barack Obama, had set the bar even lower, saying that a job creation figure of 100,000 would be considered a success, even though that is below the level needed to keep up with population growth, and well below the average of 139,000 for 2012 and 153,000 for 2011.

Other indicators had presented a murky picture, with weekly jobless claims rising and moderate private sector payroll growth of 162,000 that underperformed last month’s numbers but beat expectations.

The September jobs report is the second-to-last of the highly-anticipated reports to be released during the 2012 presidential election. Each campaign spins the reports to its advantage–Obama touting a record of steady if modest private sector job creation, and challenger Mitt Romney pointing to the low overall numbers and high jobless rate. 

In that regard, Obama has been assisted by the mainstream media, which tend to tout any number–even a poor number–that beats market expectations as a “really good” jobs report.

Over time, the campaigns have settled into two broad narratives–Obama arguing that the recession could have been worse and the recovery will soon take off, Romney arguing that Obama failed to deliver and that his policies are the obstacle to economic progress.

The September jobs report likely comes too late to change those overall storylines, but may provide a boost to Obama as he makes his closing arguments in the final month of the campaign.

It’s not a good report, by any means, but probably a good report for Obama.

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