President Obama on Friday morning headed to Ohio, where he was expected to defend his economic policies after a poor unemployment report released just hours earlier.
The Department of Labor reported that the jobless rate grew to 9.1% in May, but even more discouraging, the net increase in employment was just 54,000 jobs, a significant decline from past months. The relatively low job-creation number is a sign of at least a softening in the jobs market, a poor omen for Obama’s reelection campaign.
In a taste of what Obama is expected to argue, Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, called the jobless numbers a bump on the road to recovery and defended the administration’s policies.
“There are always bumps on the road to recovery, but the overall trajectory of the economy has improved dramatically over the past two years,” Goolsbee said in a statement.
“While the private sector has added more than 2.1 million jobs over the past 15 months, the unemployment rate is unacceptably high and faster growth is needed to replace the jobs lost in the downturn. The initiatives put in place by this administration -- such as the payroll tax cut and business incentives for investment -- have contributed to solid employment growth overall this year, but this report is a reminder of the challenges that remain,” he said.
The new jobs numbers quickly became a partisan football in an already tough political atmosphere as Congress and the White House wrestle with the budget, the deficit, long-term debt, entitlements and the overall economy, already a key issue in the 2012 election cycle.
“Under President Obama’s watch, Washington has tied the hands of small business owners with regulations that have made it harder to grow, and has spent money that it doesn’t have, leading to sustained unemployment over 8% and a national debt of more than $14 trillion,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a prepared statement. “It is astounding that despite the warning signs and economic indicators, President Obama and Congressional Democrats still have failed to offer any concrete plan to create jobs, reduce our debt, or grow our economy.”
Cantor again called for smaller government, federal spending cuts and tax code reform, all pillars of the GOP economic plan.
Democrats chose to highlight the positive in the unemployment numbers -- that some jobs had been created.
“Creating jobs has been Democrats’ top priority since day one, and I am encouraged that the private sector is continuing to grow and add jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) replied in his own statement. “Unfortunately, Republicans have been distracted, choosing instead to focus on their plan to end Medicare in order to pay for more tax breaks for millionaires. With families in Nevada and across America still struggling, it is time for Republicans to stop trying to force their plan to end Medicare on the American people, and work with Democrats to create jobs.”
While in Toledo, Ohio, Obama plans to also defend the government’s bailout of the auto industry.
Under former President George W. Bush and Obama, the government spent an estimated $80 billion to bail out General Motors and Chrysler. The Obama administration has said it expects to recoup more than 80% of that money and has argued that without forceful action, the industry would have collapsed.
Chrysler has announced that it will pay off its loans ahead of schedule and the Treasury Department has said it will sell its holdings in Chrysler to Fiat. The U.S. loss on the Chrysler bailout is estimated at more than $1 billion.