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White House struggles to explain underwhelming job growth

Team Trump has come up with three talking points to spin discouraging job numbers. Each of the arguments is pretty bad.
A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.
A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest jobs numbers late last week, and the results were less than encouraging. The economy added 130,000 jobs in August, short of expectations, and a number that was artificially inflated by 25,000 temporary workers hired by the Census Bureau.

It's never wise to overreact to one month's jobs figures -- we routinely see outliers for one reason or another -- but for those concerned about a possible recession, the latest data didn't help. Making matters slightly worse, U.S. job growth has slowed quite a bit since Donald Trump took office.

The White House has offered some responses. They're not especially persuasive.

Lawrence Kudlow, President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, shrugged off a disappointing jobs report by saying August "is always a quirky month."

Well, maybe. Looking back over the last few years, some Augusts have looked great, others less so. But what Kudlow should probably appreciate is the fact that the broader concerns aren't limited to August. As things stand, 2019 is on track to be the worst year for American job creation this decade. The White House may find it tough to dismiss it as a "quirky" year.

Which led us to the second talking point.

President Trump lashed out Friday at the news media after the release of an underwhelming August jobs report, accusing journalists of stoking anxiety about a potential recession."The Economy is great. The only thing adding to 'uncertainty' is the Fake News!" Trump tweeted Friday, hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released an August jobs report that fell below expectations.

American news organizations were around last year, when job growth was stronger. The president will have to do better than this.

All of which led us to Trump's third explanation for weak job growth, which amounted to pretending job growth isn't weak. In a 50-second video press statement, the president told the public, "It was just announced that we had a record-setting jobs report for the month of August."

At least in this reality, we did not have a record-setting jobs report.

Trump added, "More people are working today in the United States than at any time in the history of the country.... To all fellow American citizens, I say one simple word; congratulations."

This is one of the Republican's favorite talking points, which he repeats with unnerving frequency. I'm convinced he heard it from someone, didn't fully understand it, thought it sounded good, and quickly embraced it as proof of his genius.

Which is a shame because it's a lot less impressive than it seems. Since World War II, every president has seen more Americans working than at any time in the history of the country because our population keeps growing. It's not surprising. It's not even interesting.

We haven't heard other presidents running around bragging about this because they realized it's just not an important metric. Either Trump doesn't understand the basic detail, or he assumes we won't understand the basic detail.

I don't blame the White House for trying to spin discouraging news, but the fact that this is the best the president and his team can come up with says something notable about the economic circumstances.