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Jobs and the Election

There’s something for everyone in this morning’s jobs report.

Democrats will point to the reported 163,000 new jobs last month, double June’s dismal 80,000 (which was revised downward today to an even more dismal 64,000).  For the first time in quite awhile this was above economists’ estimates (they were predicting 95,000 new nonfarm jobs).

Republicans will point to the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from 8.2. That’s the worst since February. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for 41 straight months now. The broader measure of unemployment, which includes part timers who would rather be working full time, also increased from 14.9 percent to 15 percent, a really bad number.

It should be pointed out that these numbers are not raw, they are adjusted to be, hopefully, consistent over time. But that, of course, adds a human element to the numbers, for these adjustments are the product of judgments, guesses, estimates, and, perhaps, unconscious prejudice. There are some who have serious questions regarding the adjustments made to this month’s figures.

Even if the economy now continues to create jobs at the rate of 163,000 a month, that’s not nearly enough to bring down the unemployment rate.  Indeed, if things start to pick up, discouraged workers not now counted might begin to search for jobs again and send the unemployment rate up, not down.  It is already half a percentage point above the highest figure any president since Roosevelt has survived to be re-elected.

There will be three more jobs reports before the election (on September 7, October 5, and November 2). That last one will be on the Friday before the election day.  If it’s a really bad one or a really good one, it could make the difference provided the election is still close. The Friday before election day is considered the best day to drop a bombshell, as the opposition has little time to effectively respond. It was on that day in 2000 that the Al Gore campaign released information, which it had known for months, on George W. Bush’s long-ago DUI incident.

And it was on the Friday before the 1992 election that—in one of the most disgraceful acts in the history of American justice—Lawrence Walsh, special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra scandal, re-indicted  former defense secretary Casper Weinberger and directly implicated President Bush in the indictment although that was totally irrelevant to the indictment itself. The indictment was later dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds (and Bush gave Weinberger a full pardon to prevent any further shenanigans from Walsh). Even Lanny Davis, later special counsel to President Clinton called the action, “bizarre.”

The first President Bush was already toast at that point. But the DUI report in 2000 might well have turned what would have been a close but clear election into the hanging-chads constitutional nightmare that the 2000 election became.


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