The May jobs report was the worst news Barack Obama received since he had trouble beating an incarcerated felon in a Democratic primary.
Employers created just 69,000 new jobs last month, according to a report issued by the Labor Department Friday. That's the smallest number of jobs created in a year. Moreover, previous estimates were revised down. The economy added 49,000 fewer jobs in March and April than originally thought.
Remember that 6 percent unemployment rate the $831 billion stimulus package was supposed to deliver by now? In fact, unemployment hasn't dipped below 8 percent at any point in Obama's presidency. The jobless rate has been 9 percent or worse 28 of the 39 months he has been in office. "Recovery summer" never came.
At a comparable point in the economic recovery under Ronald Reagan, the economy added 219,000 jobs and the unemployment rate was down from 10.8 percent to 7 percent. At the end of Reagan's first term, there were 6.3 million more jobs than when he took office. In October 2011, there were 1.9 million fewer jobs than when Obama was sworn in.
"In the first 29 months during the Reagan recovery, the number of jobs grew by 8 percent," write Grover Norquist and John Lott in their stimulus-debunking book Debacle. "In contrast, over the same time, the number of jobs under Obama has grown by just 0.25 percent."
A report circulated by the Republican Study Committee looked at job creation during the recoveries that followed the last ten recessions. The conclusion was that if this were even an average recovery, 4.3 million more Americans would be employed.
James Pethokoukis writes, "If the size of the U.S. labor force as a share of the total population was the same as it was when Barack Obama took office -- 65.7 percent then vs. 63.8 percent today -- the U-3 unemployment rate would be 10.9 percent."
Obama and his campaign surrogates tell a very different story. If it weren't for their Wall Street bailout and stimulus giveaway, they argue, unemployment would be even worse. Obama averted another Great Depression. Slowly but surely, things are getting better. And even if they're not, Mitt Romney and his friends from Bain would make them even worse.
If you cite data which suggest Obamanomics hasn't been a very good deal for the American taxpayer, you are "rooting for failure," as Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter put it on ABC's This Week. David Axelrod accused Republicans of "high-fiving each other" when bad economic news -- which seems ubiquitous -- emerges.
This is an understandable strategy. George W. Bush, who recently hung out with Obama at the White House, had two responses when people pointed out the Iraq war wasn't going very well. He said that without the war, the country's national security problems would be even worse. And his campaign surrogates accused critics of rooting for failure.
So the Obama campaign is engaged in a time-honored tradition of spin and trash-talking. But it is seldom a winning tactic to ask the American people, "Who do you believe -- me or your lying eyes?"
Even if the numbers improve as November approaches, it is an even riskier proposition for Obama to claim economic progress that the voters don't feel. In 1992, Bill Clinton ran against the "worst economy in fifty years." But the 1990-91 recession had technically been over before Clinton had even declared his candidacy.
When partisans of the elder George Bush pointed this out, they seemed out of touch. Clinton's portrayal of the economy rang true, because job growth was still anemic and many workers found themselves in lower-paying positions than before. The recession didn't feel over.
Right now, the Great Recession doesn't feel over for millions of Americans. And while 2 percent growth is technically better than a recession, it isn't very good.
Obama can spend millions of dollars advertising about people who lost their jobs, allegedly because of Bain. But can he make people forget the jobs they lost -- and have yet to regain -- under his own administration?