Don’t let the graphic on the front page fool you — CNN’s Michaela Pereira and Christine Romans didn’t mean to draw a smiley face on today’s jobs report, either literally or figuratively. They both recognize that the BLS numbers are a “disappointment,” and do a good job of explaining why:
Romans hits the nail on the head with her chart — and with her caveat that it is not adjusted for population growth. “You’ve had people coming into the labor market,” she explains, “you’ve had new immigrants, you’ve had people graduating from college.” Just getting back to the level of 2007 means falling seven years behind in population growth. That’s reflected in the generational lows of the civilian workforce participation rate, and the millions of long-term unemployed still sitting on the sidelines.
CNBC’s Ben White argues that time is running out for Democrats who want to pivot to the economy for their midterm arguments:
On CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday, I asked Pantheon Macroeconomics chief Ian Shepherdson if he thought the number might beat expectations by a significant margin. Shepherdson, who is officially calling for a gain of 250,000, said, “If the number were over 300,000 I would not fall off my chair.”
Such a number would be a huge relief to Democrats. The party is already facing a drag from the health-care law and an unpopular president in their efforts to limit almost certain losses in the House and prevent a GOP takeover of the Senate. Running on a decelerating economy would spell disaster for Democrats.
Even the status quo, modest monthly job gains of around 200,000 with similarly paltry earnings increases, would be fairly bad for the party that controls the White House and Senate.
White expands on the political impact of these stagnation numbers at Politico:
Late last year, major forecasting firms said the economy could shake off its anemic growth rate of the last four years and heat up to a 3 percent pace or more in 2014, which would be the fastest rate since 2005. But the first three months of the year saw one weak number after another from job creation to consumer spending to construction. Was all this bad news just the result of frigid temperatures and heavy snows? Or were all the rosy predictions just a bunch of wishful thinking? The answers to these questions could decide the outcome of the 2014 midterm elections.
“Whether the economy keeps puttering along in this kind of semi-stagnant state that has characterized so much of this recovery or whether we finally break out of it is of the utmost importance to the shaping of the fall campaign,” said Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution. “Many Americans still believe we are in a recession. You can run from that fact, but you cannot hide from it.” …
Meanwhile, household incomes have actually fallen 4.4 percent since the official end of the recession in June 2009. These numbers help explain why even though headlines occasionally refer to “consumer confidence” figures hitting highs since the recession, the numbers are still very depressed.
For instance, 55 percent of Americans, according to Gallup, currently believe the economy is getting worse rather than better. A recent NBC/Wall Street journal poll found that 57 percent of Americans think we are still in a recession even though we have not technically been in one in nearly five years.
One or two good jobs reports won’t change these numbers.
Of course, we’d have to get one or two good jobs reports to even test that hypothesis. We haven’t seen more than a handful since the recovery started in June 2009, which is one reason why wages are falling. The job market isn’t competitive enough to hold wages in place, let alone increase them.
All of this was true in 2012, and Obama and the Democrats managed to hold serve. This time, Obama won’t be on the top of the ticket driving turnout, though, but he will be the issue in states where those most dissatisfied will shape the turnout model. White may be right that time could already have expired on the Democratic “pivot.”