White House Faces Political Headaches Over Jobs Ahead of Labor Day

Facing pressure on jobs, White House promises "broader package of ideas."

ByABC News via logo
September 3, 2010, 10:50 PM

Sept. 4, 2010 — -- The skies over the White House were overcast Friday as President Obama and several prominent members of his economic team entered the Rose Garden to deliver remarks on the Labor Department's newly released August jobs numbers.

The skies -- a dreary reminder of Hurricane Earl's presence along the Eastern Seaboard -- went unacknowledged, much like the other glaring presence casting its shadow on the president's remarks: the jobs numbers themselves.

August saw a net job loss. And despite the fact that the private sector appears to be gaining a bit of steam with 67,000 jobs added in August, the public sector still is struggling. As a result, the unemployment rate, which has hovered over the 9 percent mark for 16 consecutive months now, rose again from 9.5 percent in July to 9.6 percent in August.

The simple truth is that more than half a million new job hunters emerged in August and the number of jobs being created is simply not capable of meeting that kind of demand.

"Our system just wasn't set up to deal with long-term unemployment," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. "We were used to, during much of the post-World War II period, people losing jobs and then getting jobs again. Even if they had to accept lower pay in a new job, they could get a job fairly close to what they had been previously doing. That just isn't the case anymore. What we're seeing now is people, when they do accept work; they're accepting part-time work instead of full-time work in record numbers just to be employed."

Part-time workers certainly are a big element of the August jobs numbers story because of the layoffs of 114,000 temporary census workers. And part-time workers seem to have been skewing the jobs numbers since the spring, when the net increase of 431,000 jobs that the White House boasted of in May was propped up by the hiring of 411,000 temporary Census workers.

In May, President Obama acknowledged, "Most of the jobs this month that we're seeing in the statistics represent workers who've been hired to complete the 2010 census," but he never said just how many.

He appeared to be sidestepping the less-favorable elements of August's government data, as well. In the Rose Garden Friday, he made no mention of August's net job loss at all, choosing to focus instead on the private sector.

"This morning, new figures show the economy produced 67,000 private sector jobs in August, the eighth consecutive month of private job growth. Additionally, the numbers for July were revised upward to 107,000," Obama said. "Now that's positive news, and it reflects the steps we've already taken to break the back of this recession. But it's not nearly good enough."

Financial experts agree.

"We didn't lose as many jobs as we thought in June and July," Swonk said, "and we are creating some jobs in the private sector. That's good news. The question is, is it enough? And no, it's not.

"We've lowered the bar on what we expect from the economy so low that it's not hard to exceed that hurdle," she said. "The hurdle is now the ground."