How will the weak jobs numbers affect the race for the White House?

Updated

The government reporterd Friday morning that the economy added a paltry 115,000 jobs in April – well below the already underwhelming 163,000 that economists had predicted. The overall jobless rate actually ticked down a jot to 8.1 percent, but that’s in part because more discouraged workers left the labor force entirely.

On Morning Joe Friday, before the new numbers were released, the gang mulled how significant the jobs stats will be in shaping the race for the White House.

“Is this jobs number what we’re going to be looking at throughout the year to gauge President Obama?” asked Joe Scarborough.

msnbc contributor Ed Rendell said it’s not worth focusing on too much right now. “What the jobs number is in early May isn’t important,” said the former Pennsylvania governor, a Democrat. ”It looks to me like this economy’s going to bump along until November, just as we’re going. Some progress, not enough for the Obama administration to claim it’s over … and not enough for the Republicans to really broadside” Obama.

Some might argue that unemployment over 8 percent is more than enough for Republicans to vigorously attack Obama over – just as they’ve been doing. But ad maven and msnbc contributor Donnie Deutsch said history shows the direction of the jobless rate, rather than the raw number, will be more important in determining the election.

“In the last 50 years, any president where the jobs number has been going in the right direction over the last two years has won,” Deutsch told the panel. “Every president where it’s been going in the wrong direction over two years has lost.”

And there, the news is better for Obama. As Deutsch noted: “In 2010 November, it was I think 9.7 percent [ ed – in fact, it was 9.6 after the October report, which appeared in early November]. Now its 8.2, and most economists are predicting about 7.9” by Election Day.

Joe Scarborough found that prediction hard to believe. “What economist is telling you that things are going to stay the same or get better?” he asked incredulously.

In fact, Deutsch was right. A recent survey of 32 leading economists conducted by the AP found a belief that the jobless rate will drop below 8 percent by Election Day.

But that’s still extremely high, by historical standards. And Willie Geist noted that the headline jobs figure doesn’t even include the millions of Americans who aren’t looking for work.

“That jobs number is a tough one to read, because even when that ticks down a little bit, it means some people have come out [of the work force], he said, “There are a whole lot of people who aren’t even included in that number who are hurting.”

How will the weak jobs numbers affect the race for the White House?

Updated