Jobs report: Good news for Obama? Not exactly

@CNNMoney October 13, 2011: 6:15 PM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The economy added 103,000 new jobs in September. That's great news for the Obama campaign, right?

Not exactly.

Here's the problem: 103,000 new jobs a month is still about 50,000 jobs off the pace economists say is needed just to keep pace with population growth.

The unemployment rate stands at 9.1%. It's been half a year since the economy added more than 150,000 jobs in any one month.

And the problems driving unemployment -- slow growth and a crippled housing market -- remain a policy puzzle.

It's a trend that should be setting off alarm bells at Obama's 2012 campaign headquarters. After one full term, it will be difficult to blame the previous Republican regime for the lackluster economy.

"Right now, we are the ones in charge," Vice President Joe Biden said in September. "And [the economy has] gotten better. But it hasn't gotten good enough."

Barring an economic miracle, Obama will likely enter the heart of the campaign season with unemployment north of 8%.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the unemployment rate will fall to 8.9% in the fourth quarter of 2011 and to 8.5% in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Congress sits idle while economy falters

The anecdotal evidence is lined up firmly against Obama. No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won re-election with an unemployment rate over 7.2%.

But that's just one data point. According to political scientists and election watchers, a more useful predictor of electoral success is how the public feels about the economy.

In other words, a series of positive reports and robust economic expansion in the months leading up to the election might give Obama the wiggle room he needs.

But the economy will have to actually improve. Right now, the public is downright pessimistic. A recent CNN/ORC International poll shows 90% of those polled believe current economic conditions are poor.

Setting aside public sentiment, there is also a very real threat that economic conditions could deteriorate further.

According to a forecast from the Economic Cycle Research Institute, the economy is staring down another recession.

The ECRI produces widely-followed leading indicators that predict when the economy is moving between recession and expansion -- and all those indicators are now pointing to a new economic downturn in the immediate future.

Congress could lend the president a hand and pass measures designed to stimulate the economy. But that seems unlikely. Obama's stimulus proposal -- the American Jobs Act -- is all but dead.

The House will not hold a vote on the bill. In the Senate, it appears Democrats are having trouble getting enough votes to muscle the measure through.

The inability of Congress to pass a bill -- any bill -- might actually become an Obama campaign theme.

Asked during Thursday's news conference if he was trying to run against a "do-nothing Congress," Obama said: "If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress." To top of page

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