Bad jobs report jolts Obama, gives Romney a break

The weak June jobs report ends a three-week stretch of momentum for President Obama. For Mitt Romney, it interrupts cries from conservatives to shake up his floundering campaign.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Obama speaks at Dobbins Elementary School in Poland, Ohio, Friday. He addressed the June jobs report on his two-day bus trip through Ohio and Pennsylvania.

On balance, it’s a bad day for President Obama. The June unemployment report came in Friday below expectations, with only a net 80,000 jobs created and unemployment stuck at the high rate of 8.2 percent.  

That makes 41 straight months above 8 percent unemployment, Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney was quick to remind at an early-morning press conference.

The discouraging jobs report ended three weeks of momentum for Mr. Obama, which began with his new policy halting deportations for some young undocumented immigrants - a highly popular move in the crucial Latino voting bloc – and continued with the Supreme Court’s surprise ruling last week that upholds most of his health-reform law.

The jobs news also interrupted Mr. Romney’s damaging narrative of discontent among prominent conservatives, after he and his campaign fumbled their response on health care and news reports about his business practices and off-shore bank accounts.

Now, the discussion has jolted back to the core issue of the campaign: the economy.

“There’s no way around it, the jobs numbers are a loss for Obama,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Healthy growth in domestic auto sales and housing starts mitigates the bad news, but above all other economic benchmarks, it’s the unemployment rate that gets the public’s attention. What’s keeping Obama competitive is the weakness of the opposition, Mr. Jillson says.

“The Romney campaign shows no momentum, no ability to grab opportunities,” he says. “Obama is fortunate in his opponent.”

Romney took a break from his family vacation in New Hampshire to jump on the bad employment news, holding a rare press conference soon after the jobs report came out. 

“It is another kick in the gut to middle-class families,” Romney said, speaking at Bradley Hardware in Wolfeboro, N.H. “American families are struggling; there’s a lot of misery in America today."

The former governor of Massachusetts asserted that the jobs numbers are actually worse than the 8.2 percent unemployment rate, when people who have dropped out of the workforce or are underemployed in part-time jobs are factored in. The real un- and underemployment rate, he said, is almost 15 percent. And he laid the blame at Obama’s doorstep.

“The president’s policies have not gotten America working again, and the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it," Romney said.

Obama, predictably, put a positive spin on the jobs report during a stop on his two-day bus tour across northern Ohio and into Pennsylvania.  He called private-sector job growth “a step in the right direction,” and noted that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months.

But there was no sugar-coating the fact that the nation is still struggling to emerge from its biggest recession since the Great Depression.

“It’s still tough out there,” Obama said, speaking at a campaign event at Dobbins Elementary School in Poland, Ohio.

“Our mission is not just to get back to where we were before the crisis,” he said. “We've got to deal with what's been happening over the last decade, the last 15 years: manufacturing leaving our shores, incomes flat lining. All those things are what we've got to struggle and fight for. And that's the reason that I'm running for a second term as president of the United States.”

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