GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. – The discouraging new unemployment numbers present President Obama with a sobering reminder that an uneven recovery from the recession can be a fragile argument for his re-election. Its all deepening his anxiety over the political and economic threat posed by the European debt crisis.
Anemic job growth and an uptick in joblessness to 8.2 percent also give new resonance to Republican presidential rival Mitt Romneys campaign and put Obama on the defensive after a winter when the job trends were in his favor. Job growth now has been disappointing for three straight months, accentuating challenges ahead for the president.
Obama, speaking about the economy Friday in Minnesota, kept up an optimistic front. While he said the latest jobs report indicated the economy was not growing fast enough, he predicted, We will come back stronger; we do have better days ahead.
Romney called the figures devastating news. The Republican said in an interview Friday with CNBC that Obamas policies and his handling of the economy had been dealt a harsh indictment.
Shortly after the report was released, Obama was in Minnesota to push his proposal to expand job opportunities for veterans and to raise money for his campaign. In the meantime, the world anxiously awaits the impact of the European debt crisis, which could stall the recovery in the U.S.
What were looking at is the longer-term trend, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama. The economy is still adding jobs, as it has for more than two years, Earnest said, but its readily apparent that were not adding those jobs at a rapid enough pace.
The unemployment numbers, while imprecise and a typically lagging indicator of economic performance, are nevertheless an undeniable marker of the human cost of a weak economy.
Mays 8.2 percent jobless rate, the first increase in 11 months, reflects more people coming back into the job force, a thin silver lining to an otherwise dismal report
No president since the Great Depression has sought re-election with unemployment as high as that, and past incumbents have lost when the unemployment rate was on the rise.
Obama is counting on an unemployment trajectory that has brought the rate from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. The president likes to point to the 3.8 million jobs created since he became president, though 12.5 million Americans remain unemployed. He highlights the resurgence of the auto industry after government bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors.
Fridays report seriously dampens Obamas message.
The nation has experienced periods of jobs slowdown for the past three years, only to bounce back. Last year, from May to August, job growth averaged 80,000 a month and from June through September of 2010, the average was 76,000.
But Obama cant afford a prolonged period of feeble growth. He is pushing Congress to enact several proposals designed to spur job growth and secure the housing industry.
Congress has a responsibility here, Earnest said.
Romney, now freed from his primary contests, has aimed heavily at Obamas economic policies, arguing that they have slowed the recovery, not aided it.
Obama could face the highest unemployment rate on Election Day of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But his aides argue that the trend line is more important than the actual number.
Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan as unemployment climbed from 6 percent to 7.5 percent. George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 as unemployment rose from 6.9 percent to 7.6 percent. But while Reagan faced unemployment of 7.4 percent in October 1984, the rate had been dropping since the spring of 1983. He went on to win re-election.