Today’s jobs report gave President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney data to buttress their campaign messages on the economy while trying to sway a narrow slice of voters who remain undecided three months before the election.
Payrolls rose by 163,000, more than forecast, yet the jobless rate increased to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent, a five-month high, the Labor Department reported.
Obama seized on the payroll number, saying it marks the 29th consecutive month of job growth and demonstrates the world’s largest economy is steadily, if slowly, mending from the recession. Romney called the rise in the unemployment rate “another hammer blow to the struggling middle-class families in America.”
The two candidates appeared almost simultaneously to address the Labor Department report, Obama in Washington and Romney in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Yet most voters aren’t likely to make up their minds based on the July figures, said Dan Schnur, a campaign adviser to Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s first bid for the White House.
“Voters already know what they think about the economy,” Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said yesterday before the figures were released. “What’s left is for them to decide who can do something to make it better.”
The economy is the dominant issue in the presidential race and the two campaigns are taking divergent approaches to framing the debate.
“This is an extraordinary record of failure,” Romney said in an appearance at a trucking company in Nevada, the state with the highest unemployment rate, 12.6 percent. “The president’s policies have not worked.”
In an effort to highlight his background and contrast it with that of Obama, Romney said his plans are not based on economic theory and that he’s “had a job in the private sector.”
The Romney campaign issued a “white paper” yesterday written by four of the candidate’s economic advisers arguing that the U.S. economy is “stuck in a low-growth trap” because of Obama’s “economic errors and poor choices,” such as an economic stimulus financed by government debt.
While Romney is trying to keep the focus on the state of the world’s largest economy and an unemployment rate that has been stuck at more than 8 percent for more than three years, Obama is pursuing a strategy of pleading for patience while accusing Romney of favoring wealthy taxpayers at the expense of middle-income Americans.
“Let’s acknowledge, we’ve still got too many folks out there who are looking for work,” Obama said at an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds. “We haven’t had to come back from an economic crisis this deep or this painful since the 1930s.”
Obama called on Congress to extend tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year and said it was “disappointing” that House Republicans have refused unless the tax rate cuts for the wealthiest Americans also continue.
Without mentioning Romney by name, he said his Republican rival’s plan isn’t simply “top down” economics, it’s “upside down economics.”
That followed the line of attack Obama has been using against Romney in recent campaign appearances. In Florida yesterday, Obama called the tax proposal that Romney has laid out “trickle-down fairy dust” that would add to the deficit and favor the wealthy over middle-income Americans.
Private forecasters had expected the unemployment rate to hold steady at 8.2 percent and payrolls to increase by 100,000 after an 80,000 gain in June, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
The increase in payrolls for July was boosted by a pickup in employment at automakers as they kept more plants open during annual retooling related to the new model year. Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. are among companies that said they would idle fewer plants.
Employment at private service-providers increased 148,000, the most in five months and reflecting more jobs in education and health services. Construction companies cut payrolls by 1,000 workers and retailers added 6,700 employees.
Government payrolls decreased by 9,000 for a second month.
Following the Labor Department’s release, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index increased 2 percent to 1,391.66 as of 11:26 a.m in New York. Ten-year Treasury yields added nine basis points to 1.57 percent.
Obama has an edge over Romney in national polls. He led the challenger 51 percent to 41 percent in a July 16-26 poll of registered voters conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington. The survey has an error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
He also leads in some key swing states. A Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll in Ohio and Florida showed Obama with a six-percentage-point advantage in each state and 11 points in Pennsylvania.
The poll of likely voters conducted July 24-30 indicated that a torrent of television advertising appears to be resonating in Obama’s quest to define Romney before many voters are very familiar with him. The polls found that more likely voters say Romney’s experience was too focused on making profits at Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, rather than the kind of experience that would help create jobs.
Both men are ultimately appealing to a small fraction of the population, the polling found. Just 4 percent of voters in the battleground states surveyed say they are undecided, and about one in 10 who have picked a candidate say they might change their minds.
The dwindling number of undecided voters also diminishes the political impact of new economic data such as the unemployment figures, said Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and co-author of the forthcoming book “The Timeline of Presidential Elections.”
“As time goes by, more voters have made up their minds,” Wlezien said. “Because of that, what happens in the future has less marginal impact.”