Jobs report: More of the same blah

The U.S. economy adds only 96,000 jobs. The unemployment rate falls to 8.1 percent, but for all the wrong reasons

Published September 7, 2012 1:10PM (EDT)

After all the drama and exquisite execution of the Democratic National Convention, President Obama's campaign managers were probably feeling pretty good about themselves. Then came the government's non-farm labor report for August. The economy added only 96,000 jobs, below expectations, and substantially undercutting the positive economic data that trickled out on the just one day earlier.

The unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent to 8.1, but for bad reasons -- both the size of the overall labor force and the labor participation rate fell, signs that in August hundreds of thousands of Americans simply gave up on the hope that there were jobs out there to be found. The labor participation rate currently stands at 63.5 percent, its lowest mark since 1981.

Which means we're back where we've been most of the summer -- and really, for most of Obama's term -- grappling with a disappointing, underperforming labor market.

Government employment declined only minimally, so the bad number can't be blamed on austerity. Manufacturing jobs dropped by 15,000. Both June and July's jobs totals were revised down. Average hours worked didn't budge and hourly wages actually fell - both indicators of slack demand.

Shortly before the release of the report, economic beat reporters were warning on Twitter that the margin of error on the report is very high (100,000), and that the number we get today will be revised twice in the future -- so this may or may not be an accurate snapshot of where the labor market really is now. But it's the only snapshot we've got, and even though its likely that at this point, voter attitudes on the economy are probably pretty hard to change, there's no question that the report takes some of the oomph out of the convention.

Right after the end of Obama's speech, some commentators wondered if the reason why the president barely mentioned jobs had to do with his advance knowledge of the labor report number -- maybe it was so good, they speculated, that he felt he didn't need to.

Now, once again, the question Republicans are sure to be asking is what does the president plan to do to boost jobs, and why didn't he lay that out during the convention?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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2012 Elections Unemployment U.s. Economy