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Deflating Jobs Report May Not Move The Needle On The Election

President Obama spoke at a campaign event at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H., on Friday.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Obama spoke at a campaign event at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H., on Friday.

It wasn't what President Obama was hoping for: another disappointing jobs report the morning after he accepted the Democratic nomination and asked Americans to stay the course.

The U.S. economy added just 96,000 jobs last month, according to the Labor Department, and a drop in the unemployment rate to 8.1 percent was mostly due to people giving up on job searches.

Still, a number of analysts say the latest economic numbers likely won't change voters' minds.

Both political parties were quick to pounce on the data released hours after the Democratic National Convention wrapped up in Charlotte, N.C. Republicans painted the report as more evidence of Obama's failed policies, while Democrats said the recovery will take more time and that it has been hamstrung by the lockstep partisan divide in Congress.

"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said in a statement. "It's clear that President Obama just hasn't lived up to his promises and his policies haven't worked. We aren't better off than we were four years ago."

Obama, who made a quiet exit from Charlotte en route to campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, initially left the task of responding to the jobs report to his staff:

"Today's unemployment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression," Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement. He emphasized that the downturn began in December 2007, a full year before Obama took office.

Later, on the stump in New Hampshire, the president contrasted the August job gains to the massive job losses when he took office. "We need to create more jobs, faster," he said.

Romney running mate Paul Ryan told CNBC: "This is not even close to what a recovery looks like."

The latest employment numbers may be deflating, but they seem unlikely to change the course of an election just two months away, says Allan Louden, a professor of presidential politics at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"That ship has sailed," Louden says.

"Sure, for the Democrats, it steps on any afterlife of the convention," he says, "but at this point, a good or bad jobs report might have a marginal, but not significant, impact on attitudes."

Susan Drucker, a professor of political communication at Hofstra University, notes that Obama, Bill Clinton and other Democratic speakers this week sought to reframe the economic recovery as a marathon rather than a sprint.

"My impression is that public reaction to this jobs report will be the first test of that reframing," she says.

Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs today reiterated what has become a monthly mantra from the White House, saying the president "understands we still have a long way to go."

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi blamed Republicans for "standing in the way of growth and certainty for our economy."

Indeed, employers may be leery of hiring amid uncertainty over the looming fiscal cliff.

Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, says businesses are feeling anxious about what lies ahead, given the partisan impasse in Congress that has delayed key decisions about tax rates and threatens to slash government spending.

"It creates enormous uncertainty and is surely having a depressing effect on hiring," he says.

And there's still one pre-election jobs report, due a month from now. What if things looked a lot better (or a lot worse)?

"People's views on the economy over the past four years are pretty well established," Gault says. "If we did see some improvement over the next month or two, I doubt that is really going to convince people that the big picture is a lot different."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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