Job market weakness depends on numbers
by Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer
September 06, 2012 12:06 AM | 270 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WASHINGTON — Is the U.S. job market dismal as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says?

Or is it steadily improving as President Barack Obama contends?

Not to dodge the question or anything, but both men are correct. It’s all about how you slice the data.

Romney and his Republican allies like to point to the unemployment rate. It’s stuck at 8.3 percent, compared with 7.8 percent when Obama took office. Most economists say “normal” unemployment is 6 percent or less.

Obama naturally prefers to stress the more than 4 million jobs the economy has added in the past 2 years.

Neither figure fully illustrates the state of the job market — the pivotal issue for many voters in the final stretch of the election season. You have to consider other numbers, too.

What about the number of people who’ve given up looking for work and so aren’t counted as unemployed?

Or the pace of layoffs?

What about the level of job openings advertised?

The job market began strengthening in mid-2010. That was about a year after the Great Recession officially ended. The gains since then have been steady but achingly slow. That’s why nearly every gauge of the job market plays into a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty election debate.

Romney and other Republicans have stressed that the unemployment rate has topped 8 percent for 42 straight months. That’s the longest such stretch since government record-keeping began in 1948.

For Obama, this is probably the most threatening statistic. No president since World War II has won re-election with such a high rate. President Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, when the rate was 7.8 percent. President Carter was unseated by Ronald Reagan in 1980, when it was 7.5 percent.

Reagan managed to win a landslide re-election in 1984, when unemployment was a still-lofty 7.2 percent. But the rate had tumbled from a peak of 10.8 percent in December 1982.
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