Economists expect good news from the February jobs report, due out Friday morning. According to most estimates, the data will show that the economy last month saw the best six-month rise in jobs since mid-2006, more than a year before the recession began. Wages have been pushing up, too, and some expect unemployment to have inched down another percentage point.
The trends are all good. The political problem for President Obama is that the overall numbers still are not.
No matter the details, Republicans on the campaign trail will quickly pounce on the jobs figures on Friday to argue that the economy is not improving quickly enough and that Obama’s policies are keeping employers from creating jobs. White House officials will walk up to cameras on the front lawn to make the case that trend lines are verifying Obama’s approach.
If it meets expectations, the report will paint the picture of a strengthening job market, but the U.S. will have high levels of unemployment for years. In fact, meeting expectations, according to Heidi Shierholz, a labor-market economist at the Economic Policy Institute “just spells six more years of elevated unemployment.” The problem isn’t that the recovery has been weak, she said. It’s that the fall was so severe. At 8.3 percent in January, the unemployment rate is nearly double its prerecession levels of 4 to 5 percent.
Economists are increasingly optimistic that, barring any unforeseen events, the improvement will continue. And if the direction and rate of improvement do indeed keep up, Republicans might find it harder to attack the president on the economy as the election approaches.
"To the extent the economy strengthens, I think the argument just shifts,” said Keith Hennessey, a former economic-policy adviser to President George W. Bush and now a fellow at the Hoover Institution.
That’s already becoming clear: At Obama's press conference on Super Tuesday, he got not a single question about jobs or the economy.