Unemployment Refuses To Rally For Elections

The latest unemployment report shows the jobless rate is basically stuck where it's been, which is to say, the situation is not good. The private sector added fewer jobs than economists expected, and government jobs disappeared. This is the final jobs report before November's midterm elections, and elected officials are figuring out how to deal with it.

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The latest unemployment report shows the jobless rate is basically stuck where it has been, and that's not good news. The private sector added fewer jobs than economists expected and government jobs disappeared. The jobs report released yesterday is the last one before November's midterm elections. NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro reports on how elected officials are dealing with it.

ARI SHAPIRO: The unemployment report prompted dueling speeches at small businesses 500 miles apart from each other. In Maryland, President Obama visited a concrete products company.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, these are the guys that build serious stuff: concrete blocks, bricks - for walls that are thick, difficult to move and can stop anything in their path. Sort of like the way I feel about Congress sometimes.

SHAPIRO: Congressman John Boehner is proud to have obstructed the president's agenda. He hopes to be speaker if Republicans take back the House in three weeks. Yesterday, Boehner gave a speech of his own at a small business in his home district.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): The pink slips shouldn't be going to workers here in Ohio, they should be going to the members of President Obama's economic team.

SHAPIRO: Both men talked a lot about how small businesses are struggling in this economy, but they gave utterly different views. First, President Obama argued that Republicans stood in the way of government programs that would give small businesses easier access to cash.

President OBAMA: Thousands of small business owners across America had been waiting for months for this bill to pass, for the loans and tax cuts they've badly needed to grow their businesses and hire new employees. Unfortunately, it was held up all summer by a partisan minority until a few courageous Republican senators put politics aside.

SHAPIRO: But back in Ohio, Congressman Boehner said the answer is for government to get out of the way and stop spending taxpayer money on ineffective programs.

Mr. BOEHNER: Your government is out of control. Do you have to accept it?

Unidentified People: No.

Mr. BOEHNER: Do you have to take it?

Unidentified People: No.

Mr. BOEHNER: Hell no, you don't.

(Soundbite of applause)

SHAPIRO: Yesterday's numbers showed that unemployment has now been above nine-and-a-half percent for 14 months - that's longer since any time since the 1930s.

Mr. AUSTAN GOOLSBEE (Chairman, President's Council of Economic Advisers): Everybody knows this hole is the deepest since 1929, and I think that just confirms what people knew.

SHAPIRO: This is Austan Goolsbee, the new chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. While Mr. Obama was speaking in Maryland, Goolsbee was at the White House trying to put the unemployment numbers in context.

Mr. GOOLSBEE: All you can do is start at the bottom and work your way out. And he clearly came in at the bottom, and we're just trying to slowly work our way out of this. It will succeed.

SHAPIRO: President Obama cannot be voted out of office in November, but Democrats across the country are at risk. Members of both parties are making the same argument in TV and radio ads: I deserve to be in office because I can create jobs.

(Soundbite of TV ads)

Unidentified Man #1: What's at stake in this election? Jobs.

Unidentified Woman: We need experienced job creators in Washington, not more job killers.

Unidentified Man #2: Produce taxes for workers and job-creating businesses.

Unidentified Man #3: Create clean energy jobs that can't be outsourced.

Unidentified Man #4: Because the economy should be job one.

SHAPIRO: Businesses are coming back - slowly. In September, the private sector added 64,000 jobs, which is about average for the last nine months. Unfortunately, that's not nearly enough to get us out of this hole, says senior economist Robert Dye of the PNC Financial Services Group.

Mr. ROBERT DYE (PNC Financial Services Group): Well, we'd like to see, you know, consistent monthly gains of 150 to 200 thousand per month. Really bring the unemployment rate down in a meaningful way.

SHAPIRO: That means job growth needs to more than double, and until it does, Dye says, people in office will be voted out.

Mr. DYE: A bad economy - and I think a 9.6 percent unemployment rate qualifies as a bad economy - going into an election is bad news for incumbents. It doesn't matter what party you're in. If you're an incumbent in this election, watch out.

SHAPIRO: Both parties have known for a while that a bad economy makes things tough for incumbents, and most of those incumbents are Democrats. Now they know for certain that things will not get better before Election Day.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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