Few new jobs, fewer answers, more politics

Updated

69,000 shouldn’t be the number of new jobs in a growing economy. We all know this. 69,000 is, quite literally, a slightly above average attendance at an NFL game. If you review last season’s averages, May’s jobs number would fit in right between the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons. Add the fact that the unemployment rate rose to 8.2%, and it adds up to what should be bad news all around, particularly for an Obama re-election campaign that seeks to sell messages like the one above.

Even Yahoo! finance editor (and past “MHP” guest) Daniel Gross, perhaps the most optimistic man in the political media when it comes to the economy, was a little down this morning. He still found a bright spot:

There’s an odd wrinkle here. The unemployment rate is derived from the household survey, in which BLS calls people and asks them about their employment status … In May, according to the BLS, the labor force actually grew by 635,000 — which means a lot of people who had been sitting on the sidelines jumped back in. The number of people employed, according to the Household survey, rose by 422,000 in the month.

That notwithstanding, the Dow Jones is falling and the Republican gloating and concern-trolling is rising. From House Speaker John Boehner to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, today already has become a referendum on exactly who and what Republicans want it to be on, and it goes without saying at this point. But the question is, do they have a point?

Jamelle Bouie in The American Prospect spreads the blame around:

The frustrating thing about all of this is that it isn’t a hard problem to solve. There are tools in both monetary and fiscal policy to increase aggregate demand, and boost the economy … But, unfortunately, our dysfunctional politics make the latter impossible, and Obama’s (terrible) decision to reappoint Ben Bernanke to the federal reserve makes the former unlikely. We know how to fix persistently high unemployment, but with short-sighted elites and broken institutions, it’s not going to happen.

What I always find so fascinating and frustrating about the day that each jobs report is released is that the focus for too many quickly turns to political rhetoric and What It Means for the Election, and away from what this is supposed to be about – people getting jobs. As Steve Benen noted this morning, if the President’s American Jobs Act had actually been passed and enacted, independent analysis indicates that it could add two million more jobs than we’d get with existing policy.

But are such hypotheticals even worth it? The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, a critic of Gross’ book, offered a sobering analysis about how the narrative triumphs:

…it almost doesn’t matter if the underlying reality is better than the recent statistics. Against the backdrop of two or three months of mediocre data, this is a sufficiently grim set of numbers—and has inspired enough hand-wringing in the media—that it will clearly penetrate the consciousness of the average consumer and employer, who was already wavering on whether this recovery had legs. The danger is that the perception becomes self-fulfilling—that anxious consumers stop spending, anxious employers slow their hiring even more, and that the two reinforce one another in a vicious cycle of austerity.

Still, Scheiber followed up with some tweeted words of wisdom for the Obama folks about how to change the narrative:

The President is making remarks right now. We’ll see if he follows that advice, then update this post with the video once it’s available.

Few new jobs, fewer answers, more politics

Updated