Political Animal


September 07, 2012 8:49 AM August Jobs—Meh At Best

By Ed Kilgore

So in our monthly dose of angst from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the August jobs report is kind of the opposite of July’s, which showed better-than-expected job growth but an actual uptick in the unemployment rate. This time around, the net jobs increase number, at 96,000, fell short of the 120-130k expectations, but the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3% to 8.1%. There were also some modest but significant downward revisions of the job gain numbers for June and July.

So we are continuing to get the picture of an economy that is slowly struggling to recover but not making up much if any ground. It’s unclear if the situation is enough to merit the action by the Federal Reserve Board that Ben Bernanke has been hinting at.

It will be widely observed today that Barack Obama (allegedly) had access to these numbers yesterday afternoon, and that they may have marginally affected the tone of his acceptance address, adding emphasis to the message that he’s struggling with the American people through hard times, not proclaiming success. It is very unlikely this jobs report—or, barring the kind of unlikely sharp trend that makes publication of reports beside the point, the two more we’ll see before Election Day—will have some tangible effect on undecided voters. But we’ll hear a lot about it anyway, particular from Republicans seeking an angle from which to deny the Democratic Convention had any positive impact on the president’s odds of victory.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • JR on September 07, 2012 9:08 AM:

    You say "meh" but, if those numbers had gone up one point, or even stayed flat, no one would be talking about the Dem convention this morning.

  • kd bart on September 07, 2012 9:21 AM:

    This number too will eventually get revised.

  • Daryl McCullough on September 07, 2012 9:27 AM:

    I've heard several bloggers, including you and Kevin Drum, calling for Bernanke to do something about unemployment, but I really don't understand what it is that he is supposed to do. Isn't basically the only lever that the Fed has is control of interest rates? Right now, the interest rates are low enough that further tweaking won't change employment much.

    So what is the Fed supposed to do?

  • c u n d gulag on September 07, 2012 9:30 AM:

    Hey, it's in the "plus" column!

    The response to any Conservative politicians or pundits who complain about the slow growth, is, "Well, the Obama Administration had already created more jobs in less than 4 years, than the Bush Adminstration had in 8 - and now you can tack on almost another 100,000 on top of that. So, your point is what, exactly?"

    And that shouldn't just be coming from the Democratic politians, but the MSM as a whole.

    But we all know, THAT ain't gonna happen!

  • boatboy_srq on September 07, 2012 9:37 AM:

    I'm impressed that we have this much growth while still shedding 7,000 public sector jobs.

    That's one thing (of many) about the GOTea that frustrates me: the current "recovery" is proceeding according to their model (private sector employment up, public sector employment down, and net employment rising), and they still don't like it.

  • T2 on September 07, 2012 9:47 AM:

    Knowing the numbers in advance probably should have tempered Obama's remarks....that's why he sees them before us. But there is no jobs report at this point that's gonna sway anyone but the most stupid voter. Jobs being created, not the other way around. Only a horrid report in October could have any real effect, and likely we'll just have another tepid one.

  • Anonymous on September 07, 2012 9:48 AM:

    A retort found in a comment on Steve Benen's blog:

    If the President's policies haven't been implemented, then how could they fail?

  • Robert on September 07, 2012 9:49 AM:

    I'm sorry...but the shame should be placed on the republican congress critters. Obstruction is their game, and we all know it. I just wonder if PO had a working congress how much better off we would be.

  • sjw on September 07, 2012 9:50 AM:

    As Mr. Kilgore pointed out, presumably Obama had access to these numbers yesterday before the speech. Obviously these numbers are mediocre. Why this didn't push Obama to turn this to his advantage in his speech is beyond me. He could have spoken of some specific short-term proposals to get the economy moving quickly. This is what Clinton would have done. Indeed Clinton would have had this stuff in his speech before yesterday; he would have seen that specifics were precisely what undecided voters were looking for.

    Obama clearly doesn't understand the bully pulpit thing. He had a chance last evening to answer today's blah jobs report preemptively. He had a chance to close the sale on the presidential election. I'm not the only one today saying that he blew it. And this is why the election is as close as it is: Obama is a rather poor salesman for his policies.

  • berttheclock on September 07, 2012 9:54 AM:

    "this much growth"

    The real shame is the majority of gains are in the lowest tier of earnings with little to no percs. Slowly, we are moving into a Wealthy frolicking in the Zona Rosa, while, the majority of the populace is on the streets akin to those beggars from Oaxaca. Our great three tier system of the mid-sixties has evaporated into a two tier economy. At least, in the elementary schools, they are, now, teaching "Spare Change, Spare Change". Yeah, Trickle Down really trickled, eh?

  • lou on September 07, 2012 10:01 AM:

    Time to get to work on what is across the bridge instead of continuing our U turn mid bridge. This is a zero sum game we are stuck in and why there is so much rancor. We are fighting over a shrinking pie. We have reached the end of growth with our big man/small earth paradigm. We do need a radical vision that will not be forthcoming from anyone whose main job is keeping the wheels on this unsustainable global beast.

  • JB Allen on September 07, 2012 10:04 AM:

    Per Daniel Gross, the public sector has reduced employment by 934,000 in the past year alone.

    What sort of private sector growth would be required to offset those cuts?

  • berttheclock on September 07, 2012 10:10 AM:

    Hmmm, 934,000 divided by how many are employed at a Burger King? That would give you the number of new BKs to be built, eh?

  • schtick on September 07, 2012 10:37 AM:

    I'd like to see an answer from a tealiban for the question of how much the layoffs the tealiban are making with teachers, firemen, and police affect unemployment numbers and why is it Obama's fault when they are the ones laying them off? Oh wait. Everything, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is Obama's fault. Silly me.

  • Joe Friday on September 07, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Well, the Congressional Republicans obstructionism on spurring economic growth and blocking additional job creation is obviously succeeding, unfortunately they are likely not to reap the blame.

  • James M on September 07, 2012 11:40 AM:

    @T2 on September 07, 2012 9:47 AM:

    "Knowing the numbers in advance probably should have tempered Obama's remarks....that's why he sees them before us. But there is no jobs report at this point that's gonna sway anyone but the most stupid voter."

    I totally agree. It seems that the MSM has embraced the monthly jobs report as a convenient tool for hyping the horse race narrative. However, in my opinion they no longer matter. As long as the Eurozone doesn't implode and Israel doesn't do a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, there will be no major change factors between now and the elections.

    The only other things that can now materially affect the election going forward are:

    1. PAC funded negative ads
    2. The Debates
    3. Gov. Romney himself: Since the guy seems to suffer from a total lack of empathy he is a non-stop gaff machine. The more 'retail' campaigning Mr. Romney does the more unforced errors he will make.

  • bdop4 on September 07, 2012 12:39 PM:

    Clearly the economy is just clearing the trees after pulling out of a kamikaze dive. The question is how are we going to regain altitude?

    Tax and spending cuts? How is that going to do it? Not one conservative has offered a causational chain between these policies and the creation of jobs.

    Deficit reduction won't create one single job, but the money spent on reducing the deficit could create millions.

    It is strictly a matter of triage: jobs, economic growth, then deficit reduction. We can REALLOCATE spending through trimming a massively bloated defense budget and eliminating corporate welfare, but if we have to take on some additional debt, it is worth the investment as long as it is focused on the creation of value.

    Wars and tax cuts DON'T create value.

  • Anonymous on September 07, 2012 1:09 PM:

    Are the unemployment numbers better than 4 years ago?

    August 2008 - -247K job lost
    August 2012 - +97K jobs created

    You be the judge.