The number of U.S. workers seeking jobless benefits "fell to its lowest point since May 2008" -- a "sign the labor market may finally be gaining strength." Initial claims for unemployment "fell" by 19K to 366K. The claims figure was "the latest sign of the nation's improving employment picture." Meantime, surveys of large and small employers "also show improving conditions."
There are still plenty of reasons to be cautious. Jobless claims can be "erratic" at this time of year. The pressures of low income growth, high household indebtedness, troubles in Europe and a "slowdown in developing-world economies are expected to restrain growth next year" (Dougherty/Sparshott, Wall Street Journal, 12/16).
National Journal's Cook writes, conventional wisdom "says the economy will improve little over the next year and that the unemployment rate will not significantly decline" -- producing "strong political headwinds for Obama and his reelection hopes." The drop in the unemployment rate last month "raises the legitimate question of whether the picture is brightening for the economy and the incumbent."
Which way will things go? One clue will be the Dec. unemployment figures, to be released on Jan. 6. Watch to see whether the Nov. unemployment rate is revised upward and if the December numbers confirm or repudiate the revised numbers. The figures "will go a long way in determining Obama's chances" (12/16).
Manhtattan Institute's Furchtgott-Roth writes, "GOPers have just given" Obama an early Christmas president. The GOP-controlled House has passed a payroll tax cut bill. If it "becomes law, it would reduce the duration of unemployment benefits, and require the unemployed to search for work and enroll in training and reemployment programs as a condition of receiving benefits.." These two provisions would significantly lower the unemployment rate in '12, improving Obama's chances of winning a second term (Washington Examiner, 12/15).
But Bloomberg's Dorning writes, "public pessimism about the U.S. economy has become so entrenched that it's likely to limit the political benefit to Obama." Gallup Poll chief economist Dennis Jacobe: "We may see a creeping improvement, but there's still going to be a huge percentage of Americans who are going to say the economy's getting worse rather than better" (12/16)
National Review's Kudlow writes, "by siding with the radical greenies and standing against the Keystone pipeline, Obama has turned his back on the most traditional voting bloc in the Democratic party: blue-collar, hard-hat workers" (12/15).
Meanwhile, Obama has "withdrawn" the nomination of Craig Becker -- a former AFL-CIO and SEIU attorney -- to the National Labor Relations board (Tau, Politico, 12/16).
National Journal's Brownstein writes, "there's an ominous trend" for Obama in the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll: not only is his "overall approval rating lagging, but he's lost as much (or even more) ground among groups that favored him in 2008 as among those who resisted him last time.
Obama's approval rating is now 12 points lower than his '08 share of the vote among young adults, 11 points lower among African-Americans, and 10 points lower among college-educated white women. Each of these groups "provided him a majority of their votes last time." He's "tumbled" 14 points among independents, and 7 points with upper middle-income families.
Obama is now "facing dismal approval ratings in all corners of the white community." He's fallen to 42 percent of the college-educated white women, 37 percent among the college-plus white men, just 34 percent among the non-college white men, and all the way down to 30 percent with the waitress moms.
The only groups resistant to this trend are Hispanics and seniors (where he's running slightly ahead) and families earning at least 100K (where he's only fallen slightly).
But the diminished ratings Obama is receiving even from groups critical to his 2008 victory underscores the challenge he'll face maintaining both turnout and his margin next year among the pillars of his "coalition of the ascendant" (12/15).
House Min. Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), on whether Obama is to quick to drop his goals and deal with GOPers: "I don't see that. No. I will say that first of all we're very fortunate to have such a brilliant, dedicated, values-based president of the United States. And what I have seen sitting at that table I think all Americans would be very proud of" ("Ed Show," MSNBC, 12/15).
A Fascinating Person, But Not Top 10
In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Obama "accused Republicans of grinding the government to a halt over personal animosity toward him -- as well as an inability to compromise." Obama: "You know, you never want to say, 'it's all them.' But I do think that right now at least, in the Republican Party, there are a couple of notions. Number one is that compromise is a dirty word. Number two, anything that Obama's for, we're against."
More Obama: "I do think those dynamics are making it more difficult to get things done. And it's not unusual, after such a severe economic crisis like this, for the politics to be impacted by that, for people to lurch into extremes, or to get more combative."
Obama, on Iraq: "Our troops are coming home with their heads held high, because despite an extraordinarily difficult situation, because of their sacrifice and skill, they are handing over to Iraq a country that has had a democratic election, that is working in a political fashion to solve differences" (Tau, Politico. 12/15).
Obama also says he's "not big" on poking into a candidate's personal life. Obama: "I'm not big on someone's personal lives being poked and prodded and that ends up being the primary issue" (12/15).
Obama will appear at a Union for Reform Judaism conference today at a time when the president is "eager to convince Jewish voters that his administration has been a committed ally of Israel" (Nakamura, Washington Post, 12/16).
The president is also "standing by his award of the Medal of Honor to a Marine in the Afghanistan war despite a published report" charging "exaggerations of the battle." Obama presented the award to Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer three months ago, calling him the "best of a generation" that joined the military after 9/11. He described the day in '08 when Meyer "braved enemy fire in eastern Afghanistan to save U.S. and Afghan comrades."
McClatchy Newspapers reported that its review of documents turned up numerous "untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated" assertions about the firefight. The story also said Meyer displayed heroism that day and deserves the award (Lovan, AP, 12/16).
This article appears in the December 16, 2011 edition of Latest Edition.