Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Jobless report serves up economic talking points for both parties

Still sitting on the presidential fence? Grasping for a final dose of economic clarity before casting your vote?

The last blast of economic data before Tuesday's election has come out, with Friday's jobs numbers the last of the major indicators.

The candidates and their proxies can readily spin the numbers to fit their particular political narrative — and capture your vote.

Unemployment rose from 7.8 percent to 7.9 percent in October

Obama camp: Look at the big picture. Unemployment has been steadily retreating from its peak of 10 percent three years ago. The main reason for the slight uptick in unemployment this month is a healthy one: more people are entering and re-entering the workforce. The number of people either working or looking for work rose by 578,000 while 410,000 more people said they were employed. Another good sign: the number of part-time workers seeking full-time work fell, indicating more people are part-time by choice.

Romney camp: This is the highest unemployment rate faced by any incumbent president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and higher than when Obama took office (7.8 percent). Those out of a job a long time are hit the hardest, having an even rougher time getting back into the labor market. The median duration of unemployment last month rose to 19.6 weeks. And the unemployment rate is only part of the equation. The size of the labor force is still down sharply from early 2007, indicating a sizeable number of discouraged workers may have temporarily given up looking for work and, when they return, it could drive up unemployment.

Employers added 171,000 jobs in October and hiring was stronger in August and September than initially thought

Obama camp: Private sector jobs have been growing for 32 months in a row. The economy has been steadily growing and actually picked up steam recently. All the numbers the past three months are beating expectations. Construction payrolls are up in tandem with a recovery in the housing market and higher housing sales prices. Manufacturing employment also rebounded up from September. The average workweek and number of hours worked is unchanged, indicating more employers are opting to hire new workers rather than tack on hours for current employees.

Romney camp: The pace of job growth in recent months is anemic, barely able to keep up with the growing population. And hourly wages were flat in October after minimal growth in recent months, more evidence that workers are losing ground. Need more proof this "recovery" is still very shaky? Mass layoffs planned by U.S. employers jumped 41 percent in October. Employers announced nearly 48,000 job cuts, the highest job-cut month since May and up 12 percent from a year ago. Some of the big companies cutting back are citing a slowdown in consumer and business spending.

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index rose to 72.2, the highest level since February 2008

Obama camp: There's been a dramatic jump in consumer confidence the past four years. The confidence index was at a record low of 25.3 in February 2009. Now it's at 72.2. One of the biggest jumps this month came in consumers' view of current economic conditions. An increasing number of workers are reporting that jobs are "plentiful," they expect more jobs in the coming months and they anticipate higher incomes.

Romney camp: Though they're better, confidence levels still reflect historically high levels of uncertainty. Usually, a strong economy draws confidence readings of at least 90. The last time the confidence index hit that mark was December 2007 at the outset of the Great Recession. Drill deeper into this month's numbers and it shows that proportion of respondents who think business conditions are bad (33.1 percent) is still double the percentage that described conditions as good (16.5 percent). Most said conditions were "normal."

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