August jobs report: No boost -- but not a crippling blow either

The August jobs report, showing another month of slow growth, likely will dampen whatever bounce President Obama might have achieved from his party’s convention.

Unlike jobs reports earlier in the year, which may have had a stronger political punch, the current report probably will not have a major effect. The number of new jobs, 96,000 after the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ usual seasonal adjustments, fell below the consensus expectations of economists but did not provide the sort of dramatic news -- good or bad -- that would be likely to change the way most voters see the current economy.

Still, the numbers fell well short of the level that Obama and his aides might have hoped for. A more positive jobs report would have provided a shot of favorable news coverage and a boost for Obama after a nominating convention that most political analysts saw as fairly successful. Instead, tepid numbers likely will generate mostly downbeat headlines that could remind wavering voters of what they were worried about. Many voters learn about political conventions not by watching them live, but by seeing coverage of them. The jobs report will compete for their attention.

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Democrats can point to a dip in the unemployment rate, to 8.1%. But that drop mostly reflected discouraged people leaving the labor force, hardly a positive for the president.

Republicans quickly focused on the overall slow economic growth.

“The indisputable message of today’s job report: We’re not creating jobs fast enough, and we’re certainly not better off than we were four years ago,” Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

The net result is that the jobs report likely will reinforce, rather than shift, the status quo of a very close race. Obama was leading in most polls before the Republican convention last week. Republican nominee Mitt Romney received a very small post-convention bounce in the polls -- a point or two by most measures -- which moved the race into a dead heat.

Whether Obama receives enough of an uptick from his convention to reestablish a lead won’t be clear for about a week. Before the convention, Democratic officials were setting expectations low, saying that in a race in which most people long ago made up their minds, they expected to see a bounce of only a couple of points.

The timing of the jobs report -- the day after Obama’s acceptance speech -- was coincidental. The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the numbers on the first Friday of each month, and political candidates give their acceptance speeches on Thursday nights by longstanding tradition.

Typically, the president receives an advance briefing on the numbers on Thursday evening. White House officials declined to say Thursday whether Obama would be getting that briefing before his speech.

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