Forecast of modest US job gains may not lift Obama

Associated Press Published: September 7, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers likely added jobs last month, though probably not enough to push down the unemployment rate. A tepid report Friday on hiring in August would provide little momentum to President Barack Obama's campaign a day after his speech to the Democratic convention.

Analysts forecast that the economy generated 135,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained 8.3 percent, according to a survey by FactSet. That's below the 163,000 jobs gained in July, but an improvement from meager hiring in the spring.

In his speech Thursday night, Obama acknowledged incomplete progress in repairing the still-struggling economy and asked voters to remain patient.

But economists were encouraged Thursday after several reports suggested hiring could pick up in the coming months.

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said. And companies boosted hiring in August, according to a private survey. A third report showed that service sector companies, such as hotels, retailers, and financial services firms, expanded at a faster rate last month.

The stock market jumped, mostly in response to an announcement by the European Central Bank that it will buy more government bonds in an effort to ease the region's financial crisis. The Dow Jones industrial average soared 245 points to its highest level since December 2007.

Friday's unemployment and hiring figures will be among the most politically consequential of the campaign. They arrive just as the presidential race enters its final stretch. Jobs are the core issue, and the report could sway some undecided voters.

There will be two additional employment reports before Election Day Nov. 6. But by then, more Americans will have made up their minds.

"It's the most important economic data point we have between now and Election Day," said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman under President George W. Bush.

Despite its political significance, Friday's jobs data is unlikely to signal major improvement in the still-sluggish economy.

But it will likely provide both sides with fodder for their campaigns. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has pointed to 42 straight months in which unemployment has exceeded 8 percent.

At the same time, Friday's report will almost surely mark a 30th straight month of private-sector job gains, a point Obama and his allies are certain to spotlight.

"The president's supporters will say, 'See, it's improving,' and the supporters of Gov. Romney will say, 'See, it's not improving fast enough,'" said Robert Shapiro, an economist and former trade official under President Bill Clinton.

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