8.1 pct Jobless: Back to Campaign

A Cheesecake Factory Inc. waitress delivers food to patrons at a restaurant in Denver, Colorado.

The conventions are finished.

The new monthly employment report is out:

8.1 percent unemployment in August — down from 8.3 percent. Yet just 96,000 jobs were added. It’s a mixed report, modest job growth and a jobless rate settling just above 8 percent exactly two months before a presidential election.

No one since Franklin Roosevelt has won re-election with unemployment over 8 percent.

Yet that was in the aftermath of the Great Depression. This is in the aftermath of the worst recession since then. Republican Mitt Romney will take today’s report as another count in his indictment of President Barack Obama: 42 months of persistent, 8-percent-plus unemployment. Obama will take it as a measure of steady recovery from the financial crisis he inherited: 30 consecutive months of job growth.

This is the straight story, from Bloomberg’s Shobhana Chandra:

Payrolls rose less than projected in August and the unemployment rate declined as more Americans left the labor force, indicating the U.S. labor market is stagnating.

The economy added 96,000 workers last month following a revised 141,000 rise in July that was smaller than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 92 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a gain of 130,000. Unemployment unexpectedly fell to 8.1 percent, and hourly earnings were unchanged.

Employers may be reluctant to expand headcounts as they face a global economic slowdown and the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax increases and government spending cuts. The damage inflicted by the lack of progress on jobs is the reason Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke last week said the central bank may need to do more.

“Businesses are trying to plan for a climate of uncertainty,” Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica Inc. in Dallas, said before the report. “There’s too much uncertainty about taxes, about expenditure cuts. The economy is already reacting to it.”


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