Last Economic Snapshot Before the Election Shows Healthy Job Growth

While the presidential candidates have lately been talking about almost everything but the economy, the new Labor Department report refocused attention — at least briefly — on the crucial bread-and-butter issue: jobs.

All the upbeat assessments from economists on the right and left, though, were strikingly at odds with the gloomy portrait frequently drawn at election rallies.

Donald J. Trump, who was propelled to the top of the Republican ticket in part by nagging economic anxiety and voter anger among the white working class, doubled down on the negatives on Friday. At a rally in New Hampshire, Mr. Trump labeled the latest jobs report “an absolute disaster,” and said “nobody believes the numbers anyway.”

Hillary Clinton has emphasized President Obama’s success in digging the country out of the recession, pointing to 73 consecutive months of job growth in the private sector. “We got some good news this morning,” she said on Friday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. “I believe that our economy is poised to really take off and thrive.”

Yet Mrs. Clinton, too, acknowledges wide pockets of economic discontent. “We need to make sure the economy is working for everyone,” she added, “not just those at the top.”

Those repeated economic dirges have stuck in many voters’ minds, echoing like a jingle you can’t get out of your head.

Unemployment Going Into the Polls

The October unemployment rate in a presidential election year has rarely been this low. The last time it was lower was in 2000.

The unemployment

rate in October of

each presidential

election year

The unemployment

rate in October of

each presidential

election year

Even if it is out of sync with their personal situation, “people’s perception of seemingly objective information is very much influenced by what they hear from their party candidates and leaders,” said Thomas E. Mann, a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The more dystopian views that Republicans have is basically a consequence of what they’re hearing from Donald Trump and other Republicans,” Mr. Mann explained. As for Mrs. Clinton, he said, she wants to make clear that she is not ignoring the plight of people who are struggling.

Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University in Virginia, agreed that campaign messages can sometimes drown out other signals. “Many people who feel their own personal situation is improving are still inclined to believe the rhetoric,” he said.

More than seven years after the recession ended, employment gains have been remarkably steady, finally leading to a noticeable rise in earnings. Consumers are confident enough to open their wallets and spend. Gas is cheap, home prices are bouncing back and interest rates are low.

Since 2010, 15 million jobs have been created. With unemployment below 3 percent in some metropolitan areas like Denver and Madison, Wis., many employers now complain about a shortage of qualified workers.

“It has been tough to hire good people” at a starting salary of $12 an hour, said Scott Nash, the founder and chief executive of Mom’s Organic Market, which operates more than a dozen grocery stores between Virginia and New Jersey and employs more than 1,000 people.

The combination of turnover rates and higher wages suggests that workers, particularly those equipped with higher education and advanced skills, are more willing to take a risk and quit a current job in search of a better one.

“There are more middle-skill jobs at higher salaries,” said Ian Siegel, chief executive of ZipRecruiter, which distributes jobs postings primarily from small and midsize businesses. “It’s a great time to be a job seeker.”

Many Wall Street analysts said the positive economic news would make it even more likely that policy makers at the Federal Reserve would increase the benchmark interest rate before the end of the year.

Still, the financial crisis and the slow-but-unspectacular expansion have left visible scars. Overall economic growth has remained modest. Despite recent improvements, the recovery has failed to deliver to many Americans the sense of job security and steady advancement that traditionally girds the middle class.


A textile worker in North Carolina. For the presidential campaign, the latest employment report serves as a Rorschach test allowing each side to offer its own distinctive narrative of the economy’s performance and prospects.

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The type of jobs created is one reason. “Where we are creating jobs is in service areas, which are not as productive as manufacturing, and lower paying,” said Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at Standish Mellon. “So we’ve got a problem.”

The economic divide has political shadings. Counties where President Obama scored highest in the 2012 presidential election contained more workers in new economy sectors like technology and health care.

By contrast, many areas that swerved heavily Republican four years ago were more likely to rely on traditional blue-collar industries like manufacturing, agriculture and trade.

While the health care, financial and business and professional service sectors kept chugging forward, 53,000 manufacturing and nearly 11,000 mining jobs have disappeared in the last year.

The rise of temporary gigs and unpredictable work schedules have also contributed to the sense of instability.

Corners of the labor market remain in the shadows, as people who could potentially work instead sit at home, so discouraged about their prospects that they rarely bother to look. Overall participation in the labor force has been dragging below 63 percent, down from over 66 percent before the recession. Scraping by on disability payments or help from family, some in this group, including former factory workers, might be lured back — but only by the right job at the right wage.

For older workers and those who have been unemployed for months or years, age discrimination or outdated skills have shut down routes back to work.

Yawning inequality continues to divide the ultrawealthy and everyone else.

“A sense of struggle and a belief that things are not going to change and this is the new normal has fueled a lot of the angst in this politically charged environment,” Mr. Rozell of George Mason University said.

While noting the startling disconnect between the data and the campaign rhetoric, Mr. Rozell said many in the middle-class had been genuinely squeezed. “This is not merely a perception but a reality,” he said, “that they’re either running in place or falling a little bit more behind.”

But for all the challenges, there are clear signs that the job market has markedly improved and that the economy is continuing to advance.

“The main message from the payroll report: Jobs are being created and earnings are going up,” Mr. Reinhart of Standish Mellon said. But it is also a report that “goes right down the middle of the fairway,” he said, which means “you can spin it either way.”

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4 November 2016 | 11:57 pm – Source:


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