March Jobless Rate Keeps Alive Positive Trend Toward Election Day 2012

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the results of an survey of economists that found them forecasting that the unemployment rate in November 2012 would be 7.7 percent.

So Friday's report that the unemployment rate fell in March to 8.8 percent, a tenth of a percentage point lower than the month before, certainly indicated the economy is getting the direction right. Even better, 230,000 private sector jobs were created in March.

With 20 more monthly employment reports until Election Day, there's clearly plenty of time for the U.S. economy to achieve that rate or go even lower.

With each downtick in the jobless rate, Obama's chances for re-election presumably improve, all things being equal. As the WSJ reported, it's the trend more than the absolute percentage that seems to matter more.

While the 7.7% rate in November 2012 would be the highest in seven presidential election cycles, analysts point out that it is often the overall trend—rather than the level of joblessness—that determines an incumbent's fate. President Carter was defeated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan when the unemployment rate was 7.5%, lower than the level when he was elected but up from 5.6% earlier in his term. Meanwhile, President Reagan was re-elected in 1984 with the rate at 7.2%, but that was down sharply from the peak of 10.8% recorded in 1982.

Of course, there was this little thing called the Iran hostage crisis that had a role in Carter being a one-and-doner. The foreign policy disaster factor on a president's re-election chances (think President Lyndon Baines Johnson) is something to keep in mind as President Obama contends with Libya in addition to Afghanistan, Iraq and who knows what else by the fall of 2012?

The Obama White House continued to act as if its economic stimulus never happened. While administration officials once credited the stimulus for providing a vital boost and creating jobs, they appear to have thrown it down the memory hole for good, with no mention of the stimulus for yet another month in the statement issued by Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

It would seem difficult thing to ignore nearly a trillion dollars of stimulus spending but the administration seems determined in its messaging on the economy to do just that.

With Republicans effectively attacking federal spending and many voters, including independents, worried about federal deficits and debts, perhaps the White House would just rather not go there.

As he did last month, Goolsbee cited the payroll tax holiday and business investment incentives that were part of the deal the administration reached with congressional Republicans in December to extend the Bush era tax cuts.

It was the Obama administration's effort to co-opt the lower tax message normally seen in Republican messaging.

As in the statement Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued:

"Any improvement in the jobs picture is welcome news for the country, but Washington needs to do more to end the uncertainty plaguing job creators. That means getting control of government spending, ending the threat of tax hikes, removing regulatory obstacles to job growth, and approving stalled trade agreements that would open new markets for American exports. These are the pillars of the Republican plan to help our economy get back to creating jobs, and it has been the focus of our new majority in the House.

In any event, there's still much time between now and Election Day 2012 and it's far too early to say the economy will be a definite help and not an obstacle to Obama's re-election.

But the economy certainly appears to be on the kind of glide path that raises the chances of a second Obama term.

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