The U.S. Labor Department released its September jobs report Friday, the last one before the November 2nd congressional midterm elections. The unemployment rate remained at 9.6 percent last month, and political analysts say that is not good news for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress with only a few weeks to go until Election Day.
The monthly government jobs report is seen as a key indicator for the health of the U.S. economy. The latest report showed modest growth in private sector hiring, but that was offset by job losses among government workers at the federal, state and local level.
The economy and high unemployment rate are the top issues in this year's election campaign, and President Obama says his administration remains focused on job creation as a high priority.
Mr. Obama spoke about the latest unemployment figures after touring a small business in Maryland.
"Putting the American people back to work, expanding opportunity, rebuilding the economic security of the middle class is the moral and national challenge of our time," said President Obama.
Republicans were quick to react to the latest job figures as well. House Republican leader John Boehner issued a statement that called the report disappointing and left millions of Americans asking, where are the jobs?
Public opinion polls give Republicans an advantage heading into the November elections and political analysts are predicting significant Republican gains in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Election expert Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says the state of the economy is driving voters away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans.
"The unemployment, the underemployment, the sort of stagnant income, the declining income for some families," said Mann. "All of that has created a great sense that nothing is working in this country. People are very bleak about the state of the economy."
Public approval ratings for President Obama and for Democrats in general have been slipping for months now. Somewhat surprisingly, approval ratings for Republicans in Congress tend to be even worse.
But Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says voters appear poised to hold the Democrats responsible for the sluggish economy on November 2.
"And until the unemployment rate gets markedly better, it is unlikely that voters will be any more optimistic about the economy, and therefore that will probably not be good for President Obama," said Brown.
The state of the economy always has a significant impact on national elections, and this year Republicans appear to be benefiting from voter concerns that the economy is still trying to recover from a recession.
Republican pollster and political strategist Ed Goeas says the weak economy has shaped a public mindset that took hold months ago.
"We know as political pollsters that it basically takes six solid months of good economic news for the economic mentality of the American populace to turn from a recession mentality to a growth mentality, if you will," said Goeas. "This election cycle will be run as a recession-attitude, recession-mentality [election] in terms of the voters who are out there."
Republicans charge that the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan, the bank bailout and the health care reform law have all held back economic recovery. Democrats fire back that a Republican takeover of Congress in November would bring a return to the economic policies of former President George W. Bush, who they say was responsible for the economic downturn to begin with.
U.S. voters will have the final say in November when all 435 House seats are at stake plus 37 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats. Republicans need a gain of 39 seats to retake control of the House and a gain of ten seats to reclaim a majority in the Senate. Republicans lost control of both houses to Democrats in the 2006 midterm elections.