The Labor Department today reported that the economy created 171,000 jobs in October and that the unemployment rate rose a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent.
The slight increase in the unemployment rate is not helpful to President Obama, but not nearly as harmful as if the rate had risen to 8 percent, a symbolic number that would have signalled more strongly that Obama’s economic policies are not working.
Nevertheless, the unemployment rate moved in the wrong direction, and this may at least provide a good talking point to Republicans and may add to the sense that the country itself is not moving in the right direction either.
That’s the politics of it. But September payrolls were revised upward to a gain of 148,000 from 114,000, and August to 192,000 from an 142,000. So the reality is that the employment picture does appear to be improving, although only modestly.
All in all, the minor increase in unemployment balanced by the stronger jobs gains suggests this report will have little net effect on the election. The argument remains the same: President Obama will say there is slow, steady improvement, while Gov. Mitt Romney will say it hasn’t been enough.
The increase of 171,000 jobs is a little better than what is needed to keep up with population growth, but it’s still not very robust growth. At this rate, it would still take many years to bring the unemployment rate down to pre-recession levels.