On Friday, pollsters will be crunching numbers coming out of the convention. But the most consequential number will be released at 8:30 a.m.: the August payroll jobs report. The strength (or weakness) of that report will be enormously consequential for this fall’s election. It will color the rhetoric and trajectory of the remainder of the campaign. It may even color the rhetoric that the president delivers tonight.
Here’s the thing. While reporters, analysts, and investors wait on pins and needles for the clock to hit 8:30 a.m., a few people in the White House already know the figure. Generally, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers finds out the figure on Thursday—the day before the report is released. (Here’s a great Bloomberg report on how the data is received and disseminated within the White House.) In other words, when the president steps up to the podium in Charlotte tonight, he’ll know the jobs number.
Will he drop a hint as to what the figure is? In a speech as sweeping and comprehensive as tonight’s is likely to be, it’s hard to believe he would devote much time talking about a specific number. And he surely won’t break the embargo by declaring the good news if a large number of jobs have been created. But it may be possible to read between the lines.
I’ll be looking specifically at the way Obama speaks about jobs and employment. Regardless of what the number is, Obama will have to talk about jobs in a difficult way. He’ll talk about the massive losses taking place in the economy as he came into office, and the steady comeback in private sector jobs that started in early 2010. But if he sounds more defensive, and seems to make more excuses as to why the job market isn’t recovering rapidly today—whether it’s because of the slowdown in Europe, or political uncertainty at home, or the weather—that could be an indication that tomorrow’s jobs number will be disappointing.
On the other hand, if he talks about jobs in more upbeat terms—noting the losses, but highlighting the gains, noting that America is finally getting back to work, and predicting that millions of new jobs will be created in the coming years—that could be a sign that tomorrow’s jobs number will be positive, and better than expected.
We’ll have to wait and see in the morning.