Romney And Obama Spar Over Disappointing Jobs Numbers
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama traded barbs over the June jobs report, but neither one seems to have the answer to our problems.
Not surprisingly, the disappointing jobs numbers released this morning quickly became fodder for the political world and the primary subject on the campaign trial, where President Obama is on a bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania while Mitt Romney wraps up in 4th of July family holiday gathering. The White House was the first out of the gate with an official statement that did its best to paper over what was clearly a disappointing report, saying that people shouldn’t read too much into the report and that the economy was continuing to recover. House Republicans countered by drawing attention to President Obama’s comments earlier this month that the private section was “doing fine,” by arguing that these numbers point out that this clearly isn’t true. It fell to Mitt Romney, though, to make the first public statement by a Presidential candidate on the new data at a hardware store in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire:
WOLFEBORO, N.H. – Mitt Romney called a rare press conference this morning to respond to June’s tepid jobs report, calling the unchanged unemployment rate “unacceptably high,” and repeatedly referring to the numbers as a “kick in the gut.”
In the hastily-called press conference, Romney’s first in more than a month, the presumptive GOP nominee conceded that some factors in the slow pace of jobs growth may be out of President Obama’s control, but said also that the president had failed at taking advantage of opportunities to improve the labor market that he could influence.
“In any jobs figures, there are going to be factors that come and go that you can’t control, but the things you can control you want to get right,” Romney told reporters gathered in a hardware store here. “In the case of President Obama, this is not a monthly statistic or even a yearly statistic. We’ve looked at now almost four years of policies that have not gotten America working again.”
Romney also responded broadly to critics who say his own economic proposals have not been specific enough by referring the questioner back to his 59-point economic plan, released last fall, and by deflecting the question back towards the president, whom Romney claimed had not offered sufficient new proposals to spur growth himself.
“I don’t say much to critics,” Romney said. “I have put out 59 steps for how I would get the economy going, and I don’t think I have seen any from the president that show what he’s planning on doing. I laid out my 59 steps. Take a look at them, I think you’ll find them very specific.”
Romney continued. Referring to the president’s campaign bus tour through the Rust Belt, which began yesterday, he said, “How do you go across Pennsyvlania and Ohio and not talk about being serious about creating jobs through manufacturing policies that make America more attractive for investment and growth?”
President Obama’s chance to speak came about an hour later during a stop in Poland, Ohio, and he pretty much echoed what the White House said, which quite honestly comes across as trying to put lipstick on a pig:
POLAND, Ohio-Speaking at a campaign event, President Obama told supporters that this morning’s worse-than-expected jobs report marks a “step in the right direction.”
“We learned this morning that our businesses created 84,000 new jobs last month. And that, overall, means that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs,” he said to applause from the packed auditorium at Dobbins Elementary School. “That’s a step in the right direction.”
Before the report, economists had projected around 90,000 new jobs were created in June, so the report was a disappointment. The economy needs to create around 150,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.
“But we can’t be satisfied,” Obama told voters in the key swing state, “because our goal was never to just keep on working to get back to where we were back in 2007. I want to get back to a time when middle-class families and those working to get into the middle class have some basic security. That’s our goal.”
The president made no mention of the nation’s 8.2 percent unemployment rate in his brief comments on today’s jobs report.
That’s understandable, of course, given the fact that this is not great news, and that it comes on top of four months in which the jobs numbers had become increasingly disappointing. As I noted this morning, over the past three months, we’ve averaged only 75,000 new jobs a month, over the past four months it’s been 84,000, and for the first six months of the year it’s been about 150,000 per month but we’ve been below that average since March. It seems rather clear that the jobs engine has slowed down once again this year, and there’s no real indication that it’s going to rev up again any time soon. In addition to the problems in Europe and China, both of which clearly seem to be entered phases of slow growth if not outright recession, it’s likely that employers are going to be extremely cautious about increasing investment and hiring until the various uncertainties in the economy — including the outcome of the election and the fate of the Bush Tax Cuts and the other items included in the so-called “fiscal cliff” — are resolved. As long as that’s the case, these jobs numbers are going to continue to be disappointing, and the Obama campaign is going to want to change the subject.
More importantly, though, calling this jobs report “a step in the right direction” strikes me as completely tone deaf. Yes, it’s great that 80,000 people got jobs last month, and it’s also good that 4.4 million people have gotten jobs since the recession ended. But an average of about 156,000 jobs over 28 months isn’t exactly something to be bragging about, Mr. President, and you can only blame your predecessors for so long.
The same goes for those who would point to the decline in public employment as the cause of our problems. as Dave Schuler points out over at his place, the primary reason for that is the fact that tax revenues at the state level have plummeted since the recession and states, unlike the Federal Government are generally required to balance their budgets (although many have found creative was around this requirement in recent years as California shows us). The idea that the Federal Government, which already has fiscal problems of its own, should be sending money to the states so they’ll hire people might sound like a good idea, but what happens when that money runs out and the states are left with an entirely new group of employees with overly generous benefit and retirement packages that they’ll have to find a way to fund? No, the only way that we’ll get out of this mess and get the economy back to a growth rate that will produce jobs and help us solve some of those Federal fiscal problems is if we find a way to spur business investment and new business creation. Federal subsidies aren’t going to do that, but one thing that would help is if Congress and the White House could figure out a way to reduce that uncertainty I spoke of above. It isn’t really surprising that people aren’t investing in growth when they don’t even know what their tax levels are going to be in seven months, or when the Federal budget is going to get fixed. The gridlock in Washington, motivated by it is by a desire on both sides to score partisan points, has created a situation where people in Main Street have no idea what they future holds, and when that’s the case, they hold on to their cash.
Politically, this news is likely to work to Romney’s advantage, especially if the slow growth continues for the next several months. The truth, though, is that he doesn’t seem to have much of a better answer to all of this than the President does and, if he gets handed the keys to the White House on November 6th, he’s going to have to figure out pretty quickly how to deal with a multitude of problems that will face him when he enters office. the same is true of President Obama should he eke out a re-election here. Quite frankly, I don’t have much confidence in either one of them.