Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Unemployment Down on Friday

The first Friday morning of the first 11 months of 2012 brought exciting news for political journalists. At exactly 8:30 a.m. the Bureau of Labor Statistics would upload the latest jobs report to the Internet. The agency's website would often crash as journalists rushed to pore over the figures. Cable news spent hours parsing through the shifts in the inevitable topline figure: whether the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up or down. Were they examining these reports to assess the state of the economy, trying to discern the next best steps for the government to correct our path out of the recession? Of course not. These speculations focused on how the new set of numbers might swing the presidential election.

This once-monthly ritual of political reporters anxiously refreshing Twitter on the edge of their seats had a little less oomph today. The normal economic wonks pushed out the numbers, but beyond that the press corps noted the slight drop in the unemployment rate (it dipped from 7.9 to 7.7 percent) and went on with its day. It's a relief to no longer listen to baseless speculation about how each shift in the numbers could Change Everything, to be relieved of the breathless pearl-clutching at the new numbers. It was always a futile exercise; after all, the numbers are far from absolute, always to be revised in coming months, and only a spectacularly bad report was going to (maybe) make a real difference in Romney vs. Obama.

But that doesn't mean these numbers should be ignored. Now that the jobs report possesses no electoral implications, the political conversation needs to shift back to determining ways to lift the country out of the doldrums. This month's report of 146,000 is about average for 2012. That wouldn't be a terrible number in a normal economy, but it's an anemic pace of recovery for an economy still sputtering out from the worst recession since the Great Depression—a rate of job growth that barely keeps up with population growth, hardly enough to correct for the millions struggling to find work.

President Obama included new stimulus in his proposal to solve the fiscal cliff impasse. He advocated for an extension of the payroll tax holiday, new investment in infrastructure, and an extension of unemployment insurance. All told it would amount to around $200 billion in additional stimulus. The jobs report might not have grabbed as many headlines this month, but it does provide a handy reminder about the need for further government action to bolster the economy.

So They Say

"This isn't a progress report because there's no progress to report."

—House Speaker John Boehner with your daily fiscal cliff update

Daily Meme: Election 2012's Last Weeks, By the Numbers

  • The last FEC reports of the 2012 election have finally been filed, and the final tally is official: The Obama v. Romney presidential race cost more than $2 billion.
  • The big tally was helped along by some last-minute cash infusions from big donors like Sheldon Adelson, who poured $33 million into Romney-supporting super PAC coffers in the election's last weeks.
  • But most of the money coming in after October 18 was from small donors—the average donation for the time period was $41
  • Twenty percent of that last-minute money went to Obama-supporting super PAC Priorities USA. 
  • Obama currently holds the record for the best presidential fundraiser ever; guess the "I will be outspent" worries were overblown.
  • $900 million of that $2 billion was spent on the endless television ads no one misses.
  • Mitt Romney's super PAC was wasting a cool $7 million a day at the end of the election.
  • James Carville said in November, "We all freak out that the money in politics is going to change everything. As it turned out, it really didn't change much."
  •  But $2 billion is still a lot of money, regardless of how effective it was at changing political realities. All those zeroes alone should have us at least a bit concerned. 

What We're Writing

  • Harold Meyerson writes about the chaos going down over an anti-union bill in Michigan.
  • Brooke Jarvis reports from the county Recorder's office in Seattle, where the first marriage licenses were awarded to same-sex couples.


What We're Reading

  • Molly Redden profiles Donald Ritchie, Congress's historian and weird answer man.
  • The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a case on California's Prop 8. 
  • Molly Ball lists the four reasons liberals may not be too pleased during Obama's second term.
  • Jonathan Chait analyzes the right wing's "psychology of defeat." 
  • On the fiscal cliff, Obama and Boehner stand alone.
  • Will Republicans do well in 2014? History says yes.


Poll of the Day

Americans sure do like a winner. According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll Obama's approval rating rose after the election, reaching its highest point since the successful mission against Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Fifty-seven percent of the country approves of the president now, while 42 percent think the country is in the right track.

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