U.S. Congressional Democrats are stepping up their criticism of President Bush's record on jobs, after a new government report Friday showed fewer American jobs were created than expected last month. If such reports continue, they could complicate President Bush's re-election efforts this year.
The Labor Department report indicates that just 21,000 jobs were created last month, surprising economists who had predicted recent economic growth would create several times that number of jobs. The report said unemployment remained at 5.6 percent in February.
Democrats, who view President Bush as vulnerable on the economy, quickly seized on the report. Their party's presumed nominee for president, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, issued a statement saying "at this rate, the Bush administration will not create its first job for another 10 years."
On Capitol Hill, Democrats noted that more than two million jobs have been lost since Mr. Bush took office in 2001, saying it is the worst such record of any president since the Great Depression.
"The current slump is the most persistent since the 1930s, in terms of this jobs recession," said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Bush administration officials admit they are not satisfied with the new economic report, but they say the president's policies will continue to promote economic growth and produce new jobs.
Many economists say the stagnant job growth is due to productivity gains achieved through the use of technology, such as computers.
It is a point underscored by Congressional Republicans, including Senator Robert Bennett of Utah, chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. "Employers who wrung the inefficiencies out of their operations in response to the recession found that, when the time came to hire people back, by virtue of the information revolution, they could be that much more efficient than otherwise, and their productivity went very high," he said. "They only needed to call about 25 percent of the workers back."
But that argument may not help the re-election campaign of President Bush, who came to office promising to create jobs.
"Without an upturn in the jobs numbers in key battleground states like Ohio, this is going to be a persistent, nagging problem for President Bush," said political analyst Craig Crawford. "He had predicted over two million new jobs (would be created during his administration). It just is not going to happen, and it looks as though it will not come close to happening by election day."
The new employment report comes as the U.S. Senate is debating a jobs bill.
On Thursday, senators approved an amendment that would tighten restrictions on federal contractors' ability to move American jobs offshore, where companies can often do business for less money than in the United States.
It is one of several amendments Democrats have proposed, aimed at stemming the flow of U.S. jobs overseas.