May, Crueler Than April

06.01.12

Jobs Numbers: Youch

Republicans will drop the r-word; Democrats will say where's Bernanke?

The May jobs number of 69,000 is nearly 100,000 less than economists were expecting. March and April were also revised downward. The unemployment rate ticked up .1, to 8.2 percent (it was 7.9 percent when Obama took office). The news is all bad.

The political implications are pretty obvious. Nate Silver said a while ago that an average monthly job gain of around 150,000 a month would be Obama's magic number--anything above, he was golden for reelection, and anything too far below meant trouble. There is a very thin silver lining here, which is that more people are returning to the work force, so the jobless rate actually went up for a good reason, but of course that's just a wonky and actually true argument; I'm not suggesting it would play politically, it's just worth noting as a fact.

Republicans, I predict, are going to start tossing the word recessioin around again. Recession means two quarters of negative growth, but that of course won't stop them--we're "heading into recession." Obama's strongest counter-argument: The private sector has now gained more jobs under my presidency than it lost. That is true. It's not a bad claim, considering the roughly 4.5 million such jobs lost in his first year. But it's not exactly deeply resonant under these circumstances either.

Hey, Federal Reserve Bank: anyone home? You can expect pressure now on Bernanke from Democrats to do something here. Watch him closely. Employment tends to bump up in the summer months, so we'll see what happens here. But if the numbers continue like this, there is no question that Romney's chances improve substantially.