The nation’s unemployment rate dropped sharply to 7.8 percent in September, its lowest level since the month President Obama took office, the Labor Department announced Friday.
Employers added only a modest 114,000 jobs last month, but the jobless rate dipped from 8.1 percent in August. The unemployment rate fell because more people were working and not because discouraged job seekers stopped looking, the numbers showed.
Adding to the positive news, job gains were revised upward by 40,000 for July (to 181,000) and by 46,000 for August (to 142,000), casting a slightly rosier light on what had been perceived as a summer slump.
The news immediately took center stage in a heated presidential race, with President Barack Obama welcoming the information as further affirmation of his insistence that the nation continues to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
“Today I believe, that as a nation, we are moving forward again,” the president said to a crowd of supporters at George Mason University in Fairfax. “We’re moving forward.
Obama, however, wisely tempered his words so as not to crow too loudly.
“Every month reminds us that we’ve still got too many of our friends and neighbors who are looking for work,” he said. “Today’s news is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It is a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.”
The timing of the Labor Department release couldn’t have been worse for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, whose chief attack against a second term for Obama had always been a stubborn unemployment rate above eight percent.
The news thwarted any momentum Romney may have enjoyed from his performance against the president in Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Denver.
He’s now left Romney to walk a precarious line between the nation’s fortunes and his own political ones.
“This is not what a real recovery looks like,” he said in a carefully worded statement. “We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July, and we’ve lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office.”
Though the new numbers were in line with a surge in consumer confidence last month, even before their release some of the president’s detractors were trying to suggest that the data were, or could be, manipulated in the incumbent’s favor.
On CNBC, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis dismissed the implications as “ludicrous”, saying there was no evidence of any irregularity.
Democrats will use the data to point to the 24th straight month of overall job growth after a severe financial crisis.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said the report “shows that the balanced policies advanced by President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate are working to move our economy forward.”
The private sector, which has been adding jobs since March 2010, grew by 104,000 workers in September. Governments, where job cuts have been a drag on the recovery, added 10,000 jobs, their third straight month of gains.
There is now almost the same numbers of jobs as when Obama took office in January 2009. Since the economy stopped hemorrhaging jobs in February 2010, there has been an increase of more than 400,000. A mere 62,000 increase in the number of jobs would allow Mr. Obama to claim a net increase in jobs over his tenure.
Nigel Gault, the chief United States economist at HIS Global Insight, wrote that he believes Friday’s report was “highly significant politically” but “less significant economically,” noting that underemployment, which counts people who would like to work full time but can find only part-time jobs, was unchanged over August. It was down over the year, from 16.4 million to 14.7 million.