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Friday, August 3, 2012

In July Jobs Report, Something for Everyone


The two-part nature of the monthly jobs report often provides political parties an opportunity to cherry-pick their favorite parts - and the release on Friday of the July numbers was no exception.

Democrats moved quickly to promote the surprisingly strong jobs growth for the month, while Republicans seized on a small uptick in the overall unemployment rate as a further indictment of President Obama's economic policies.

Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, summed up the Democratic response shortly after the report was released, calling the addition of 163,000 jobs in July “a solid, encouraging number.”

And, in a statement, the White House stressed that “it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report,” but concluded that Friday's report “provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.”

The statement, from Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, went out of its way to note that the unemployment rate was “essentially unchanged, rising from “from 8.217% in June to 8.254% in July.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and the House minority leader, wrote on Twitter that “today's jobs report is small step in the right direction. But more needs to be done.”

Meanwhile, Republicans focused instead on the 8.3 percent unemployment rate, up from 8.2 percent the previous month.

“Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families,” Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful, said in a statement. “My plan will turn things around and bring the economy roaring back, with 12 million new jobs created by the end of my first term. President Obama doesn't have a plan and believes that the private se ctor is ‘doing fine.'”

The Drudge Report, a conservative Web site, captured the Republican sentiment: It showed a grim-faced Mr. Obama with “8.3%” in big, bold letters underneath the picture. In tiny type to the left, it added: “JULY JOBS: +163,000.”

A few minutes later, even that concession to good news was removed, replaced with: “41 straight months above 8%…”

Other top Republicans followed with the same message.

“Last week President Obama said, ‘We tried our plan, and it worked.' With the unemployment rate going up again, it's obvious that plan didn't work at all,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement.

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio welcomed “any new job creation” in a statement. But he zeroed in on “unemployment still above 8 percent and rising” to condemn Mr. Obama's economic policies.

These attack targets were reversed in previous months, when th e unemployment rate ticked lower even as job growth was sluggish. In April for example, when the unemployment report fell to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent, Republicans focused on the slower dob growth numbers, while Democrats touted the falling rate.

Left unclear is which argument will move voters, many of whom may be more affected by their own personal situations than any of the statistics describing the country's overall economic health.

The addition of 163,000 jobs gives the White House the ability to argue that the economy continues to grow - albeit more slowly than it would like - and allows them to make the case that job growth is headed in the right direction.

But the unemployment rate is headed in the wrong direction, an argument that Republicans hope will provide an easy benchmark against which voters can judge the president.