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May 06, 2010

Jobs are Crucial US Election Year Issue

by Jim Malone

The U.S. government's monthly jobs report said the economy added nearly 300,000 new jobs last month, the biggest monthly total in four years.  The economy in general and the jobless rate in particular will be factors in this year's midterm congressional elections, and politicians from both major political parties are keeping close watch on an assortment of key economic indicators.  

President Barack Obama says the Labor Department report documenting the additional jobs is very encouraging news.

But because more people have decided to look for work, the unemployment rate for April actually crept up from 9.7 to 9.9 percent.

Creating jobs is always a president's top domestic priority, and Mr. Obama vowed to continue working on his campaign promise to restore the jobs lost in the economic downturn.

"So, to those who are out there still looking, I give you my word that I am going to keep fighting every single day to create jobs and opportunities for people," said President Obama. "We are not going to rest until we put this difficult chapter behind us."

Republicans focused more on the slight increase in the jobless rate.  House Republican leader John Boehner said Americans and small businesses continue to ask, where are the jobs?

Republican Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas spoke at a congressional hearing shortly after the jobs report was released.

"A painfully slow recovery is better than no recovery," said Kevin Brady. "But for the 15.3 million Americans who are out of work and waiting for Washington Democrats to finally focus on jobs, this report is disheartening."

2010 is a congressional election year, and the national unemployment rate is always a factor anytime Americans go to the polls.

Ross Baker is a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey:

"I think the economy more than anything else is going to determine what the result is going to be," said Ross Baker. "Over the years when you look at these elections, generally speaking if the economy is doing poorly, the president's party does poorly.  If the economy is doing well, the president's party generally does better, or at least loses fewer seats."

Historically, the party that controls the White House loses congressional seats in a new president's first midterm election.  And in years when the unemployment rate hovers near ten percent, those losses can be significant.  For example, high unemployment in 1982 cost Republicans 26 House seats during the first midterm election for then President Ronald Reagan.

Republicans expect to make gains in this year's election, largely because of concern over the economy and the enactment of Mr. Obama's controversial health care reform law.

But recent signs of an economic turnaround could help Democrats limit their losses in November, says Georgetown University expert Stephen Wayne.

"If that turnaround continues through the summer and into the fall, if unemployment drops, if the foreclosures of mortgages decrease, if housing prices increase, if inflation is held fairly constant then I think the Democrats will have a lot of momentum behind them and I think while the Republicans will pick up seats, they will not pick up enough to challenge Democrats in control of either house," said Stephen Wayne.

However, most experts still predict significant Republican gains in November, including perhaps the 40 seat gain they would need to retake control of the House of Representatives.