October 8, 2004


Employment rises by 96,000 in September as jobless rate holds at 5.4 percent (Leigh Strope, 10/08/04, Associated Press)

Companies added 96,000 jobs to their payrolls in September, fewer than economists forecast for the last employment report before Election Day. The figures underscored the modest hiring pace that has become an issue in President Bush's re-election bid.

The four hurricanes striking Florida and other coastal states the past two months appear ''to have held down employment growth, but not enough to change materially'' the overall jobs picture in September, the Labor Department said Friday.

The nation's civilian unemployment rate remained at 5.4 percent.

Job growth was weighed down by losses in manufacturing, retail and information services. September's net increase of 96,000 payroll jobs was less than August's rise, which was revised down in Friday's report from 144,000 to 128,000.

''I wouldn't want to be in President Bush's shoes. He had better prepare himself for an onslaught,'' said private economist Ken Mayland of ClearView Economics, noting Friday night's second presidential debate. ''The reality is that a 96,000 increase in a work force of a 131 million base is an anemic rise, and is in no way a satisfactory increase.''

The economy should be creating 250,000 jobs or more per month by now, he said. Economists predicted that about 150,000 new jobs would be added in September.

With the new report, Bush will head into next month's election with a jobs deficit. Though 1.8 million jobs have been added to business payrolls in the past year, there are 821,000 fewer nonfarm jobs in the country than when Bush took office in January 2001.

Adding jobs is better than the alternative, and the unemployment rate is just as low as it was when Bill Clinton was easily re-elected, but the irony here is that the election itself could be the kind of ice-breaker that the economy needs to get out of the rut of understandable uncertainty it's been in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 8, 2004 10:32 AM

This report completely misses the +248K revision to the Mar03 to Mar04 numbers the BLS also made today. So the amount of jobs lost during Bush is about 600K. And as in past months the household survey is showing a much better employment situation than this statistic does. I agree that Bush needs to be ready to defend himself on this but the Dem mantra of worst economy since the depression is wrong.

Posted by: AWW at October 8, 2004 11:13 AM

AWW makes a couple of excellent points. Bush has a stronger case on jobs than Kerry does. He just needs to make it.

When Kerry brings up the disappointing 96K increase in payroll jobs last month, Bush needs to point out that payrolls have increased for 13 straight months and are up 1.8 million in that time (the final number will be even higher after the benchmark revision becomes official in February, so he could quite reasonably claim "nearly 2 million new jobs" in the last year.)

When Kerry says that 1.6 million private sector jobs have been lost, Bush needs to point out that the data are contradictory. Kerry is quoting the most pessimistic numbers he can find, but other offical government data show that 1.6 million more people are working than when Bush took office, despite the loss of over a million jobs in the first few months after 9/11.

These are facts that many people watching the debate will not be aware of. Even though unemployment is low and consumer sentiment is well within re-election range for an incumbent, if Kerry is allowed to go unaswered he could frighten some people into thinking that their jobs are insecure. Bush has a golden opportunity tonight to get out the facts, counter Kerry's and the media's spin about the economy (and the ISG report), and get back the momentum in this race.

Posted by: Tom L at October 8, 2004 11:54 AM

Tom, Bush has those chances indeed, but it takes a better debater than he is to make use of them. I'm afraid Kerry is going to tear Bush apart again with his clever mix of lies, half-truths and MoveOn-slander. I also read that the Dems have packed the audience with those same MoveOn types. It's going to be really ugly.

Posted by: Peter at October 8, 2004 12:16 PM


Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I have a feeling Bush will do much better this time. We shall see.

The audience was supposedly selected by Gallup to be "a random sample of uncommitted voters from the St. Louis metropolitan area." Again, we'll see what we end up with. Based on my recollection of my time as a student at Wash. U., if they went far enough out from the city, it might not be bad. But that was over 20 years ago.

Posted by: Tom L at October 8, 2004 12:50 PM

Tom L - thanks for the nod. Unfortunately I agree with Peter that Bush has the arguements to rebut Kerry he just has to make them. The 1st debate was frustrating as you thought of strong rebuttals and then watched Bush not make them. However debates are probably like jeopardy in that it is easy to come up with the right answer sitting on your couch at home. I think Bush will do better than the 1st one but I don't if it will be enough to stop the sliding.

Posted by: AWW at October 8, 2004 1:05 PM

I think there is only downside for Bush tonight.

Consumer confidence, which IMHO is a much more important measure than the employment surveys, is quite high indicating that people generally feel quite secure in their employment and the economy.

Now Kerry has the opportunity to sow a seed of doubt, getting people to think "maybe things aren't as good as I thought after all, maybe Bush isn't so good with the economy."

The best Bush can hope for is to control the damage. People will not go away feeling better about the economy and Bush's stewardship thereof after the debate.

The tradesports Bush futures contract is trading off this morning, perhaps reflecting that sentiment.

Posted by: Bret at October 8, 2004 1:24 PM

Bret - my concern over tonight is the format, not Bush. The town hall format could allow for stupid questions (like in '92) and also prevent Bush from directly knocking Kerry down on issues.

Consumer confidence is usually a reflection of a person's individual situation. Kerry isn't going to say anything new tonight that he and the MSM haven't been saying for the past year (i.e. worst economy since Hoover). If confidence drops it would be due to something tangible like the high price of oil.

Posted by: AWW at October 8, 2004 2:02 PM

Will these be real undecideds or undecided-between-Nader-and-Kerry's?

Posted by: AC at October 8, 2004 2:13 PM