Economic Data Offers Little Change in Dynamic Between Obama and Romney

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WASHINGTON -- The jobs report on Friday had held the potential to inject an unpredictable, last-minute jolt into the race for the White House.

Instead, somewhat stronger job growth than expected and a slight uptick in the unemployment rate seemed to offer little change in the dynamic between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, as they enter the final weekend of an election already shaped by the changing contours of the nation's economy.

Economists had predicted the addition of about 125,000 jobs and said the unemployment rate, which had dropped to 7.8 percent in September, might rise slightly.

The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics beat those expectations for job growth, showing the addition of 171,000 jobs in October. And the unemployment rate, which ticked up to 7.9 percent, remained below 8 percent.

Mr. Obama is likely to cite the report as further evidence that the nation's economy is continuing to recover slowly under his policies. The president argues that nearly three years of expansion in employer's payrolls has added almost five million jobs since the economic collapse in 2008 and 2009.

That the unemployment rate remains below 8 percent allows Mr. Obama and his supporters to argue that the economic improvement over the past several months is not a fluke and that the country is headed in the right direction.

The White House said the jobs report showed the "biggest monthly gain in eight months." In a statement, Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, said it provided "further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression."

But the data did not provide the kind of unambiguous boost for the president that he received last month, when the unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.

For Mr. Romney, the numbers offer little new ammunition. For months, he has hammered the president for presiding over an economy with unemployment over 8 percent. With Friday's report, the rate remains below that level for the second month in a row.

On the campaign trail in recent weeks, Mr. Romney has argued that the country's modest jobs growth is inadequate in the face of an economy that continues to struggle.

In a statement Friday morning, Mr. Romney said the jobs report was evidence of the need to change the nation's economic policies.

"Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill," Mr. Romney said. "The jobless rate is higher than it was when President Obama took office, and there are still 23 million Americans struggling for work. On Tuesday, America will make a choice between stagnation and prosperity."

In fact, there are about 12 million people unemployed in the country. Mr. Romney often says that there are 23 million people who are out of work, have stopped looking for work or are in part-time jobs when they want full-time work.

For economists, the new report is just one piece of evidence about how the economy is doing. But among voters, the unemployment rate remains one of the most recognized barometers of economic progress or retrenchment.

The jobs reports, usually released on the first Friday of every month, have become a regular feature of the 2012 presidential campaign. Political strategists in Boston and Chicago -- where the two campaigns have their headquarters -- nervously anticipated the impact of the report each month.

But none was anticipated more than the one on Friday. Coming just days before the end of the election, the report was viewed by some as a potential bombshell that might have helped sway undecided or uncertain voters in a race that polls suggest could be exceptionally close.

Still, the trajectory of the economic arguments by the candidates has been set for months, with even last month's unexpected improvement doing little to change the political dynamic in the race.

There is now little time for new television ads or rewritten stump speeches. And in many of the most important swing states, millions of people have already voted, diminishing any potential impact of Friday jobs report, the final one of the campaign.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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