Unemployment has not been a driving factor in tomorrow's presidential election. Rather, joblessness, a force in the 1982 midterm election, has been superseded by such positive elements as rising personal income, new-job creation , and, more generally, the present recovery's durability.
The latest unemployment statistics, released last Friday, show unemployment during October holding steady at 7.4 percent, the same as the month before, with some 8.4 million persons still looking for work. In analytical terms, as many economists note, the United States may be about as close to ''full employment'' as possible today. Still, while one can recognize the gains that have been made in new-job creation since the severe downturn of 1981-1982, the existing unemployment level should not be accepted as a basis for long-range social or economic policy.
What is at stake in all the technical economic discussion about ''jobs,'' ''employment,'' and ''unemployment,'' after all, is the ability of a society to create an environment that allows each individual to fulfill deep aspirations for service, creativity, expression.
Looking down the economic roadway, many economists believe that given the normal workings of a business cycle, the unemployment rate may not come down all that much more during 1985. In fact, unemployment may well even inch up somewhat. There will be new jobs, yes, just as there were in October. But the other side of the coin is that there could also be continuing pockets of unemployment, stemming from worldwide economic adjustments such as the decline of traditional industries.
The upshot? While welcoming gains on the job-creation front, Americans need to avoid complacency. In the new political cycle to begin after tomorrow's vote, a positive partnership among government, industry, and citizen groups should be promoted to alleviate hardships felt by persons and families bearing the brunt of unemployment. Already both political parties are talking about limited programs for fostering jobs where needed. The business cycle does tend to adjust employment demands over a period of time. But while that is taking place, no American genuinely seeking work should be left on the sidelines of America's economic progress.