President Obama hailed a modest improvement in job growth last month as evidence his policies are working and pleaded with voters not to risk handing control of the country to GOP rival Mitt Romney, whose supply-side economics he said are the same policies that caused the financial crisis.
Speaking at a rally for women voters at George Mason University in Virginia, Mr. Obama said Friday’s jobs report is a reminder that “we are moving forward” and have “come to far to turn back now.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday that its survey of businesses showed the economy added 114,000 non-farm jobs in September, and that the unemployment rate dipped to 7.8 percent — falling all the way back to where it was in January 2009 when Mr. Obama took office, inheriting a recession from President George W. Bush.
“Today I believe as a nation we are moving forward again,” he said. “After losing 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, our businesses have added 5.2 million new jobs over the past 3½ years. This morning we found out the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest level since I took office.”
But speaking on the other side of Virginia, in Abingdon, the heart of coal country, Mr. Romney said progress on jobs hasn’t been good enough — and said if voters dig a bit deeper into the numbers, the picture is considerably more bleak.
“There are fewer new jobs created this month than last month,” he said.
Mr. Romney said the economy is so bad that it’s driven people to drop out of the workforce altogether, which means they are no longer even counted as unemployed.
“The reason it’s come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work,” he said.
Statisticians call that the labor participation rate. Mr. Romney said if the rate now matched the rate when Mr. Obama took office, unemployment would be at 11 percent.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that too many Americans are still looking for work, but said the numbers should not provide an excuse to “talk down the economy, to score a few political points” — a clear shot at his opponent Mr. Romney and his GOP allies.
The president went on to use the new numbers to take a few political shots of his own, arguing that the country can’t afford to put Republicans in charge.
“We’ve come too far to go back to the policies that created the economic crisis in the first place. … I have seen too much pain, too much struggle to let this country get hit with another round of top-down economics,” he said.
He jabbed at Mr. Romney, and his Wednesday night debate win, saying “my opponent got an extreme makeover” and ridiculing the former Massachusetts governor’s pledge to defund the Public Broadcasting Service, which airs “Sesame Street.”
“For all you moms and kids out there … he’s going to let Wall Street go wild, but he’s going to bring down the hammer on Big Bird and Sesame Street,” he said. “It makes perfect sense.”
Appealing directly to the women in the audience, the president then devoted the majority of his speech to talking about women’s health choices, saying Mr. Romney’s determination to repeal his 2010 healthcare overhaul would turn back the clock on women’s health decisions.
“When it comes to a women’s right to make their own healthcare choices, they want to take us back to the policies of the 1950s,” he said. ” … The decisions that affect a woman’s health aren’t up to insurance policies. They are up to you. You deserve a president who will fight to keep them that way.”
• Stephen Dinan reported from Abingdon, Va.