WASHINGTON -- It is a sign of the impact of the Great Recession that, in a final jobs report before a close election, a 7.9% unemployment rate is likely to be a positive statistic for the incumbent president.
To be sure, Barack Obama will be making history if he manages to win on Tuesday. He is facing voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent seeking re-election since Franklin Roosevelt. (In 1976, President Ford narrowly lost to Jimmy Carter when the jobless rate was 7.8%.)
Still, Obama now will be able to argue that the country has seen 25 consecutive months of job growth. The Labor Department report out Friday morning said 171,000 jobs were created in October -- not enough to dent the unemployment rate, but more than expected, and there were upward revisions of August and September growth figures. The ranks of Americans so discouraged that they have stopped looking for work declined.
"The recovery continues," Democratic strategist Peter Fenn said in a Facebook post. "Very good news for the country and for the re-election of President Obama."
Republican Mitt Romney will be able to score his own points off the final jobs report of the election: that the jobless rate remains high, and that there's still no growth in household income. He argues that Obama's economic policies have prevented a robust recovery.
"Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill," Romney said in a written statement. "We can do better."
But the Labor Department report that once was seen as a potential "October surprise" -- that is, the sort of late-breaking news that could dramatically shift votes -- is instead one more sign that a slow but relatively steady economic recovery is continuing.
"It's not too late to matter, particular if it's a marked departure in one direction or the other than what we've seen before," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said before the report was released. "If we think back to 1980, we thought the election was set, and then we had the one-year anniversary of the Iranian hostage crisis, which reminded everyone of their frustration" with that crisis. "If we have a bad jobs report, it will remind everyone of their enormous frustration with Obama's inability to get this economy going."
The jobs report was more middling than a marked departure, however, and the more powerful "October surprise" was not the scheduled jobs release but an unscheduled natural disaster: Hurricane Sandy.
Dealing with the superstorm and its aftermath this week showcased Obama in a classic presidential role and earned him accolades and an embrace from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of Romney's top surrogates, when they toured storm damage together Wednesday. An ABC/Washington Post poll this week found that 78% of those surveyed rated Obama's response as excellent or good.
The storm shut down government offices in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, raising the possibility that the jobs report might be delayed. It came out on schedule at 8:30 a.m.
Given the closeness of the race, any shift could matter. In the latest national surveys, aggregated by RealClearPolitics.com, Obama is at 47.4%, Romney at 47.3%. Despite the attention to the previous two jobs reports, however, a worse-than-expected report for August and a better-than-expected report for September didn't significantly affect the campaign.
The nation's unemployment rate had dropped to 7.8% in September, the lowest since January 2009, the month Obama took office. The rate in October ticked up to 7.9%, but the number of jobs created was above the 121,000 that economists had forecast.
Consumers have been feeling more confident lately, but business executives are expressing concern about the looming "fiscal cliff" -- that is, the prospect of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of the year if lawmakers can't reach an agreement to prevent them.
That is likely to be the first job of the newly elected or re-elected president.
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Read the original story: Analysis: Even at 7.9%, mostly good news for Obama