US jobless rate falls to lowest level in nearly four years

Sat, Oct 6, 2012, 01:00

THE US jobless rate has fallen to 7.8 per cent, the lowest level in nearly four years, the department of labour announced yesterday.

No US president since Franklin D Roosevelt has been re-elected with unemployment above 8 per cent. Joblessness had not descended below that level since January 2009, and commentators have long said it was the greatest impediment to President Barack Obama’s re-election.

Unemployment stood at 8.1 per cent in August. The work force grew by 114,000 jobs in September. Figures for July and August were also revised upward, showing that 86,000 more jobs were created in those months than previously reported.

“Today’s report provides further evidence that the US economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” Alan Kruger, chairman of Mr Obama’s council of economic advisers, said in a statement.

The news comes at a fortuitous time for Mr Obama, two days after he was defeated by the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in their first debate.

Addressing a rally at George Mason University in Virginia yesterday, Mr Obama called the news “a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now”.

But the Romney campaign reiterated its criticism of Mr Obama’s handling of the economy.

“This is not what a real recovery looks like,” Mr Romney said in a statement.

Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan called the report “a sad indictment of the diminished expectations under President Obama”, saying that the number of jobs added were “well below what is needed for America to meet its economic potential . . . We should not have to settle for this new normal.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after the Romney-Ryan debate showed that while Mr Romney benefited from his strong performance, Mr Obama was not hurt.

For the first time, Mr Romney surpassed the halfway mark in favourability, with a 51 per cent rating. Mr Obama’s favourability remains unchanged, at 56 per cent. Twenty-seven per cent of respondents said the debate made them see Mr Romney more favourably, while 54 per cent said it did not change their opinion of Mr Obama.

Overall, the poll found Mr Obama to be five points ahead of Mr Romney, at 48 to 43 per cent.

One of the most surprising things about the debate was that Mr Romney’s “47 per cent video” did not come up.

Mr Romney had told a private fundraising dinner that 47 per cent of Americans do not pay federal income tax, “feel entitled” and would never vote for him. Polls showed the video hurt voters’ perceptions of Mr Romney.

There was speculation that Mr Obama did not mention the video in the debate because it would have given Mr Romney the opportunity to mitigate ill effects before the greatest possible television audience. David Plouffe, an Obama adviser, said the comments were already “backed into the cake” of the American electorate.

Sean Hannity of Fox News asked Mr Romney on Thursday night what he would have said if the topic had been raised. Mr Romney had earlier claimed he’d spoken inelegantly.

“Well, clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you are going to say something that doesn’t come out right,” Mr Romney said. “In this case, I said something that was just completely wrong.”

Mr Romney said the gap between rich and poor had grown under Mr Obama, and that the rich “will probably do fine if he is re-elected”. The Republican professed concern for the middle class and the poor.

“I want the poor to get into the middle class. So many have fallen into poverty by virtue of his policies,” he continued. “So for me this is about the 100 per cent.”

Mr Obama devoted much of yesterday’s rally in Virginia to women’s issues, which he neglected on Wednesday night. Republicans “want to take us back to the policies of the 1950s” regarding women’s healthcare, he said.