WHITE HOUSE —
President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, are disputing the meaning of September’s better-than-expected U.S. jobless figures. Both candidates were seeking votes Friday in swing states, where polls show the campaign is tightening.
The Labor Department
says U.S. unemployment showed a bigger than expected drop, from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September.
Last month’s figure matches the unemployment rate in January 2009, when Obama took office, and it is expected to give his re-election campaign a boost.
At a campaign rally in Virginia Friday, the president said the improved jobless number is a sign of progress in the country’s economy.
“This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office. More Americans entered the work force, more people are getting jobs," said President Obama.
As he does each month, however, the president reminded the audience that more work lies ahead.
“Now, every month reminds us that we have still got too many of our friends and neighbors who are looking for work. There are too many middle class families that are still struggling to pay the bills. They were struggling long before the crisis hit," said Obama.
While the president campaigned in the affluent Virginia suburbs of Washington, Romney was seeking votes from coal miners in the opposite end of the state.
He dismissed the lower jobless rate, saying it was the result of more Americans giving up their search for work and not being counted in the statistics.
“So it looks like unemployment is getting better, but the truth is, if the same share of people were participating in the workforce today as on the day the president got elected, why, our unemployment rate would be around 11 percent. That is the real reality of what is happening out there," said Romney.
Obama said Republicans were playing politics with the jobless figure, and he insisted that the economic recovery was making progress.
“But today’s news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It is a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now," he said.
Romney, however, did not join some other Republicans who accused the Obama administration of manipulating the jobs data to help the president’s campaign. The White House denies the charge.
The former Massachusetts governor did tell supporters he will do a better job than Obama of putting people back to work.
“When I am president of the United States, when I am president of the United States that unemployment rate is going to come down, not because people are giving up and dropping out of the workforce, but because we are creating more jobs. I will create jobs and get America working again," said Romney.
After speaking in Virginia, Romney’s next campaign stop was in Florida.
The president was addressing rallies at universities on Friday. After his first stop at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, he went to Cleveland State University in Ohio.
Most recent public opinion polls show Obama still holding a slight lead nationwide, but Romney is pulling even in several swing states.
Most analysts believe Romney was the clear winner in Wednesday night’s debate, the first of three between the two candidates.