The last major economic report before the November elections is not good news for the Obama administration and Democratic candidates campaigning for seats in Congress.
The September unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.6 percent. For what little consolation it is, the rate had been forecast to be 9.7 percent, but "not as bad as expected" and "it could have been worse" make poor campaign slogans.
The White House will put the best possible face on it, saying in essence, "The economy is improving; not as fast as we would like, but it is improving." Unfortunately, there are too many people who will find little comfort in that reassurance: the 14.8 million who are out of work; another 9.5 million, up a million since July, who can only find part-time work; and 2.5 million would-be workers who are so discouraged they quit looking altogether.
The once-formidable American job-creating machine appears to be stuck in neutral. September was the 14th straight month the jobless rate has been 9.5 percent or worse, the longest streak since the 1930s. Economists are saying it might be another five years before we reach pre-recession levels of 6 percent or less.
A closer examination of the September numbers offers no solace. Instead of creating jobs, the economy lost a net of 95,000 jobs last month. The figures were skewed by the scheduled loss of 77,000 temporary Census jobs in September, but that aside, the figures are still not good.
Cash-strapped state and local governments shed 83,000 jobs. The private sector was in positive territory, but with an anemic 64,000 jobs, most of them in low-paying service-industry fields. Analysts had been hoping for 85,000 jobs from private employers, but even that is well below the number needed just to keep even with the natural growth of the work force.
The report prompted Wall Street to send the markets higher, but only because analysts think the news is so bad that the Federal Reserve will be forced to take additional measures to boost the economy.
Even so, any measures will come too late to help the prospects at the polls of the president's party.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL.