BARACK Obama’s hopes of holding on to the White House have received a major boost from new figures showing that the US unemployment rate has dropped below 8 per cent for the first time since he took office in January 2009.
The US added 114,000 new jobs in September, in line with expectations. But August’s disappointing jobs figure was dramatically revised upwards from 96,000 to 142,000, helping to bring the unemployment rate down to 7.8 per cent.
”Today, I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again,” Mr Obama told a raucous campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia, after the figures were published. ”This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office.”
Acknowledging that the economy was not out of the woods yet, he added: ”Now, every month’s figures reminds us that we have still got too many of our friends and neighbours struggling to pay the bills … But now is certainly not the time to talk down the economy and score a few political points. It’s a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.”
Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG, described the report as ”pretty darn good”. Mr Greenhaus highlighted the fact that the total number of employed persons rose by ”a whopping” 873,000 while the number of unemployed persons declined by 456,000, the largest increase in employment since January 2003.
The news could not have been better timed for Mr Obama, whose re-election campaign has been rattled in recent days by his perceived weak performance in his first debate with rival Mitt Romney. The report contained good news for many voters in key demographics being targeted ahead of the election.
The unemployment rate for adult men is now 7.3 per cent, and for adult women 7 per cent. But problems remain. September’s unemployment rate for teenagers was 23.7 per cent and there was little change for black Americans (13.4 per cent) or Hispanics (9.9 per cent).
The number of people working part-time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job rose from 8 million in August to 8.6 million in September.
”This is not what a real recovery looks like,” Mr Romney said. ”We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July, and we’ve lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office.”
He added: ”The results of President Obama’s failed policies are staggering – 23 million Americans struggling for work, nearly one in six living in poverty and 47 million people dependent on food stamps to feed themselves and their families.”
The Republican House speaker John Boehner also noted the figures are too high but acknowledged there was good news, too. ”While there is positive news in today’s report, job creation is far too slow and the unemployment rate is far too high.”
While Mr Obama can now point to 24 consecutive months of growth, the Republicans argue the rate remains historically weak. An increase of 114,000 barely covers population growth in the US as new entrants come into the job market.
Geoff Hoffmann of recruitment firm DHR International said employers were growing confident but a lot of uncertainty remained. ”There’s uncertainty about the impact of healthcare legislation, tax impacts, it’s not really clear what is going to happen in 2013 and beyond,” he said.