Democrats were almost gleeful Friday over the latest jobs report. Unemployment in April declined from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent, the lowest jobless rate since September 2008.
The addition of 288,000 jobs last month beat expectations and represented the best month of job growth since January 2012.
Six months before the November midterm elections, Democrats have been eager for good economic news. President Obama’s job approval numbers are underwater: 44 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval in the RealClearPolitics.com average. And polls in key Senate races show that Democrats are in danger of losing control of the upper chamber, with virtually no chance of retaking the House.
“If the economy improves, the whole electoral environment for Democrats improves,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told The Washington Post.
Republicans were quick with caveats about Friday’s jobs report, even as they welcomed the boost in employment. Labor force participation declined to 62.8 percent in April, a 35-year low, as the work force shrank by 806,000 people. Those were mainly people who opted not to join the work force rather than people who dropped out, the Labor Department said.
And, Republicans note, economic growth for the first quarter of 2014 came in at a paltry 0.1 percent.
“Earlier this week, we learned that economic growth largely stalled at the start of the year,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “And while it’s welcome news that more of our friends and neighbors found work in the past month, this report also indicates more than 800,000 Americans left the work force last month, which is troubling.”
The question is whether April’s job growth is the beginning of a trend toward a more robust recovery, and whether Americans will begin to feel better about the economy. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 71 percent of Americans rate the economy negatively.
Friday’s report gave the Obama administration something to tout, and Democrats a chance to return to a main theme of the November elections: efforts to help middle-class and working Americans.
“While [the April jobs report] suggests that economic recovery is beginning, there is much work to be done to continue creating jobs and strengthening the middle class,” Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada said in a statement. “The first thing we should do to grow our economy is raise the minimum wage.”
Senator Reid said that the Senate could pass an increase in the minimum wage immediately if Republicans would drop their filibuster. He also called on Congress to pass a measure designed to boost equal pay for women, and to foster innovation through investments that create jobs.
For Democrats, if the perception grows that the economy is improving, that could boost interest in voting on Nov. 4. The generic congressional vote – how Americans intend to vote for Congress in November by party – shows the major parties in a dead heat, 42.4 percent for Democrats and 41.6 percent for Republicans, according to the RealClearPolitics.com average.
But Democrats suffer from an enthusiasm gap, and thus are less likely to turn out than Republicans, polls show. A strengthening economy could fuel enthusiasm in the run-up to November, particularly among key Democratic-leaning groups that are less inclined to turn out in midterms than in presidential elections: young voters, single women, and minorities.
If second-quarter economic growth comes in strong, and the nation sees several more months of healthy job creation, Democrats may really have something to cheer.