- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

President Bush and Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry will debate the state of the economy tomorrow, the same day two jobs reports will be released that could show improvement in the nation’s employment numbers less than four weeks before the election.

The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its monthly employment report for September and will announce a preliminary revised estimate of the number of payroll jobs created in the March 2003 to March 2004 period. Administration forecasters say the estimate could add 288,000 to 400,000 jobs to Mr. Bush’s record.

If the revisions are anywhere near these numbers, economists and political strategists say, it would strengthen Mr. Bush’s assertions that job creation has improved on his watch and make Mr. Kerry’s charges of a weak economy less compelling.

The senator from Massachusetts is expected to make the president’s job-creation record the primary focus of his campaign offensive in tomorrow’s debate in St. Louis, but economists say Mr. Bush enters the prime-time face-off with some healthy figures in his favor.

The national unemployment rate stands at 5.4 percent, well below last summer’s 6.3 percent peak. Total employment has risen by 2.3 million jobs since August 2003, more than 1.4 million in this year alone. Unemployment rates have fallen in 45 states.

“Bush is going to have a very strong hand in the economic debate. The gross domestic product’s growth over the past 12 months has been higher than at any time in the past 20 years,” said economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute. “There was no 12-month period during President Clinton’s terms when GDP growth was higher.”

The GDP, the measurement of all the goods and services produced by the U.S. economy, rose by 3.3 percent in the second quarter. Economists say growth could be close to 4 percent in the current third quarter, a number that will be announced Oct. 29, four days before Election Day.

“The U.S. has endured the biggest bubble collapse in 70 years, the first attacks on America since Pearl Harbor, and inherited a recession, and we are back to normal growth. That’s a pretty remarkable record,” said Lawrence Lindsey, who was Mr. Bush’s chief economic adviser and the architect of his tax cuts.

But Mr. Kerry has made weak job growth during Mr. Bush’s tenure the major economic focus of his campaign, charging that he is the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net job loss. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ payroll-survey data still show a net loss of 913,000 jobs since Mr. Bush took office in 2001.

September’s jobs report, plus the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimated revision for the previous year, could reduce that figure.

Wall Street analysts on average are forecasting a 145,000 increase in non-farm payroll jobs last month, though some economists add a note of caution because of the impact of hurricanes that have hit the U.S. coast this season.

“Friday’s number will be more uncertain than most because we also have a hurricane effect, and that adds to the uncertainty,” Mr. Lindsey said.

A memo circulated this week by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, first reported in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, played up the forthcoming annual correction in the number of payroll jobs and estimated that the increase could be between 288,000 and 384,000 jobs.

An administration official yesterday confirmed the memo’s contents.

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