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The Political Meaning of Friday's Jobs Report

2:13 PM, May 29, 2012 • By JAY COST
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On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its first estimate of jobs created during the month of May. The consensus estimate is for about 150,000 total jobs to have been added to the economy, barely enough to keep up with population growth and certainly insufficient to reduce the jobless rate in any meaningful way.

As has been the norm for the last year or so, the media will interpret the report with an eye to the election. In a lot of respects, that is a valid thing to do, but there is a greater context to bear in mind.

The following chart tracks the percentage of jobs gained or lost during presidential tenures dating back to Dwight Eisenhower. In particular, we’re looking at changes in job growth during the first term of presidents who ran for reelection.

The lesson I draw from this graph is that the great American jobs machine has ground to a virtual halt in the 21st century.

Put aside the media hoopla over any given jobs report and the insta-analysis that invariably follows, this is the enduring trend. And note well that it is a bipartisan problem. Democrats and Republicans both share political blame for this, at least in view of the independent vote in the middle of the country.

The challenge for the Romney campaign is to convince the country that he can do better than what we have seen, not just during the Obama tenure but really the last decade. The last 12 years have been marked by stagnant wages, tepid employment growth, and an increasing sense of vulnerability on the part of the middle class.

During 2008 Obama promised he could do better, but he’s failed and will now simply focus on how Romney is bound to fail, too. Romney has to fight this argument, but more importantly offer a compelling vision to pull in the middle of the country, which today is as skeptical of the GOP as it is the Democrats.

Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.

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