Before the 2012 presidential election, President Obama’s Republican detractors aggressively pushed a specific talking point: the unemployment rate had been above 8% throughout the president’s first term. The GOP wanted the public to blame Obama, despite the catastrophic economic conditions he inherited and helped to improve.
That argument, of course, is long gone. As of today, the unemployment rate is down to 7.4%, which is the lowest point of the Obama presidency and the lowest it’s been since late 2008.
So, good news? Not entirely. Obviously, few actually root for a higher jobless rate, but this figure can be misleading – sometimes it goes up when Americans re-enter the workforce (which is good news); sometimes it goes down when Americans exit the workforce (which is largely what happened in July).
In today’s jobs report, the percentage of Americans with jobs really didn’t budge, so the drop in the unemployment rate from 7.6% to 7.4% doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Among politicians, this too often makes for a lazy game – pick the metric that tells you what you want to hear. When the total number of jobs created soars and the unemployment rate doesn’t dip, Republicans ignore the former and shout about the latter. When job creation slows but the jobless rate falls, Democrats do the opposite.
So let’s try to be consistent: the number to keep an eye on is the monthly job totals. I’m glad the unemployment rate is getting lower, but it’s not necessarily the result of good news.
Incidentally, the other main Republican talking point on jobs for much of Obama’s first term was that the net total of jobs gained on the president’s watch is zero. It was always a ridiculous argument – it was predicated on the assumption that Obama deserved the blame for the jobs lost a couple of weeks after his inauguration – but it looks even sillier now. To date, the net gain for jobs under Obama is about 2.1 million overall and nearly 2.8 million in the private sector.