It should be clear by now that President Obama is running against the U.S. economy, and as of last week, the economy was beating him. A couple of weeks ago, as Mitt Romney was locking up the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Obama’s anemic polling numbers were hitting 50 percent, up from the mid-to-upper 40s, and his prospects were looking up. Then, in the past week, two bleak economic figures knocked him off his shaky pedestal and he was back in the 40s again and in a dead heat with Mr. Romney.
The salient characteristic of Mr. Obama’s presidency has been a mediocre, subpar economic recovery, the weakest since the Great Depression. And his only hope of winning a second term is an improving economy that is creating a lot of jobs.
But just as he was officially kicking off his re-election bid last week, his campaign was hit by a withering political body blow that even his vaunted oratory is finding hard to overcome.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job growth, which was weak to begin with, was slowing down even more. Mr. Obama’s economy had created just 115,000 jobs last month, after a mediocre jobs report in March.
Perhaps the second-most-stunning number in the BLS report was the 342,000 discouraged workers who said they’ve given up looking for employment because of the lack of jobs. In the perverse way the government defines the unemployment rate, those workers were dropped from the job-seekers column, and that pushed unemployment down to 8.1 percent.
“In the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, more than four-fifths of the reduction in unemployment has been accomplished by a dropping adult force participation rate,” wrote University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.
It was further proof that the economy is slowing down at a critical point in Mr. Obama’s desperate effort to avoid becoming another one-term president.
His campaign already was reeling from a feeble 2.2 percent economic growth rate in the first quarter, with top economists forecasting weaker growth for the rest of this year and next.
Now his candidacy is bleeding from two back-to-back jobs reports that reminded long-suffering Americans of the president’s biggest failing: getting the economy running at full throttle again.
“This is a time when America wants to have someone who knows what it takes to create jobs and get people working again,” Mr. Romney said last week.
Mr. Obama was caught flat-footed as he campaigned in Ohio and Virginia, two pivotal swing states that he carried in 2008 but are considered tossups, at best.
He repeated his usual excuses that the economy was still creating some jobs but had to admit sheepishly that it was not nearly enough. “There’s still a lot of folks out of work, which means that we’ve got to do more.”
He said he would soon “take some actions … that can accelerate even more job growth” but didn’t say what they would be.
“It may not matter,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Economists say it is probably too late for any policy out of Washington to affect the economy before November’s election.”
Until last week, Mr. Obama had a clear edge over Mr. Romney. That is, until the jobs report came out and, in a double whammy, the stock market dropped sharply, with the Dow falling by nearly 170 points, the biggest drop in nearly a month.