A numbers game with jobs

Kipp Lanham Contributor
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It has been a rough two weeks for Republicans. First, health care reform passes. Then, the news that the RNC mistakenly reimbursed funds for dining at an adults-only venue. Next came the positive job numbers released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The media has framed the addition of 162,000 jobs to the American economy in March as another victory for the Obama administration. The New York Times noted in its headline that the 162,000 jobs created were the most in 3 years. The Huffington Post headline read “U.S. Finally Adds Jobs.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal put the job numbers in perspective: “Long-Term Unemployed Cloud the Jobs Picture.” The Drudge Report read, “Unemployment rate remains 9.7 %.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs touted the new job statistics on Twitter, remarking, “in first 3 months of ’09 averaged 753,000 jobs lost—first 3 months of this year, average of 54,000 jobs created.”

For months, Republicans have called on the Democrats to show the American people where the jobs are. Republicans have also emphasized that Democratic legislation such as health care reform will kill jobs. With the Democrats’ progress on job growth, Republicans may have to shift political gears as Steve Benen, writer of Political Animal at The Washington Monthly claimed.

The 162,000 jobs created in March by the Obama administration makes it the third month of job creation since November 2009. But did job creation really go up for March? The data visualization used by Benen omits the 442,000 more people who filed for unemployment benefits the week of March 25. It also fails to account for the weeks of March 13 (456,000) and March 6 (451,000). The unemployment rate remains high at nearly 10 percent and the number of people unemployed rose to more than 15 million in March. These numbers dwarf the 162,000 jobs created.

Source: Washington Monthly.

Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama, discouraged reading too much into the 162,000 jobs:

The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative.

Americans are not to look too closely at the job numbers because they might change for the worse. Yet, the White House highlighted this job growth, a job growth based upon policy making that threatens to stunt job creation as health care legislation takes effect and if climate change legislation is passed.

As November approaches, the voters will be thinking about the status of the economy and job creation in relation to their pocketbooks. All along the way the job numbers will be looked at—positive and negative. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 92 percent of Americans view the economy is performing poorly and that 85 percent of respondents found finding jobs difficult to find locally. The question for Republicans is that if they want to take back the House and the Senate, how will they convince the voters that the job numbers are in their favor to vote Republican at the polls. With a job disapproval rate higher than Democrats (59-57 percent), Republicans have their work cut out for them.

Kipp Lanham is a political communications strategist who has worked on Capitol Hill and K Street as an intern and communications professional. Kipp has been published in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Hill.  Kipp graduated from American University’s School of Communication with a M.A. in Public Communication.