The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday the national unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, potentially giving President Barack Obama a lift as election day nears.
The numbers, according to the Associated Press, are the lowest the country has seen in almost four years.
According to Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck, the results can only mean positive things for the Obama administration.
“This is the lowest figure since Obama took office,” Heck said. “When Obama took office the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of 800,000 jobs a month.”
The report said employment increased the most in health care, transportation and warehousing with little change in most other major industries. About 456,000 people found employment in September, the report said.
According to Heck, the numbers contradict the frequent criticisms offered by Republicans as they relate to the stimulus package passed in 2009 and others.
In light of the recent numbers, Heck believes Obama’s initiatives must have played a role in job creation, although he did acknowledge the government’s limited control.
“How much does the Congress and President really control the economy?
Probably not a great deal.” Heck then adds, “This is an economic
The fact the jobless rate fell below eight percent also supplies an emotional significance, Heck said.
According to Heck, unemployment below eight percent was a “magic figure” set by Democrats and Republicans, who were both surprised the number actually reached that goal.
“No one expected it to drop so low.” Heck says. “It’s a big psychological mark.”
Nevertheless, some experts are not certain the new numbers will necessarily persuade undecided voters.
UW political science professor Andrew Reschovsky, who specializes in finance, tax policy and government spending, said the economy was recovering but at a relatively slow rate and was unsure if it would win over extra votes.
“The potential effects on the upcoming election remain to be seen,” Reschovsky said. “While this could definitely be used as political ammunition by the Obama administration, it is uncertain whether these numbers will really change the minds of the voting populace.”
Assistant professor of journalism Michael Wagner, an expert in elections, public opinion and American politics, agreed and said the political effects of these numbers are debatable.
“Unemployment rates are not very highly correlated with election results,” Wagner says. “On the other hand, the state of the economy as a whole, of which unemployment is a part, is a key factor in predicting election results.”
Wagner said there is also the possibility these numbers come too late in the election to have any real effect. According to Wagner, the economic conditions of the summer are better predictors of election results.
However, the importance of the drop in the unemployment rate on voters’ psyche should not be overlooked.
“A lower unemployment rate likely feeds into improved perceptions of the state of the economy for some voters,” Wagner said. “In general, the condition of the economy this year predicts a really close race with a slight advantage to the president, which, coincidentally, is just what we have.”