WASHINGTON — The jobs outlook in the U.S. brightened a bit Thursday just before President Barack Obama was to make his case for re-election to the American people.
Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government reported. And companies boosted hiring in August.
A far more consequential report politically — the government's unemployment and hiring figures for August — will come out Friday, just as the presidential race enters its stretch run. Jobs are the core issue in the race, and that report could sway some undecided voters.
There will be two additional employment reports before Election Day. 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.
Friday's jobs data is unlikely to signal significant improvement in the still-sluggish economy.
Economists' consensus forecast is that employers added 135,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by FactSet. That's below July's gain of 163,000. And it's probably not enough to bring down the unemployment rate, forecast to stay at 8.3 percent.
That would let Republican nominee Mitt Romney point to 43 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.