Obama's fate hangs on jobless numbers

2012-09-06 12:40
Barack Obama (File, AP)

Barack Obama (File, AP)

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Bill Clinton's speech

2012-09-06 08:42

Former US President Bill Clinton gave a rousing defence of President Barack Obama's handling of the weak US economy at the Democratic National Convention. Watch the full speech. WATCH

Washington - As he heads into the home stretch of his battle to remain in the White House, one number looms largest for President Barack Obama: 8.3.

That is the percent of Americans officially unemployed, and it hasn't budged since the beginning of the year. In January there were 12.8 million people jobless, and it was the same at the end of July.

What started as an encouraging rebound for the US workforce in late 2009, and a success story for the US president, has fallen flat. There is little he can do about it before the November 6 vote.

Obama kicks off the final leg of his neck-and-neck battle with Republican Mitt Romney on Thursday with a nationally televised address at his Democratic Party's national convention.

His challenge is to convince people he has done the best possible for the economy, generating more jobs than the Republicans would have, and more than they will if he is defeated.

Little has changed

But just 10 hours later the labour department will release fresh data on job creation and joblessness in August, and the numbers will remind voters that little has changed since a year ago.

On Friday Federal Reserve chairperson Ben Bernanke called the situation grave, suggesting that the slow economy and a Congress deadlocked over stimulus measures portend little good news for months to come.

The White House repeatedly points out that 4.5 million private-sector jobs have been created under Obama since the bottom of the recession.

Indeed, in January this year, the public was feeling the rebound and Obama's popularity over any Republican rival was high.

The unemployment rate which peaked at 10.0% in October 2009 had fallen steadily. The number of jobless had dropped from nearly 15 million in January 2010.

Growth has weakened

But since then, economic growth has weakened - in part due to economic stalls in Europe and China, as well as the stalemate in Washington over stimulus measures.

As a result, few expect the unemployment numbers to change significantly on Friday or by the end of the year.

Bernanke warned moreover of a deeper malaise that is likely making it harder for Obama to make his case to the voters.

The Fed chief points to the rise in the number of long-term unemployed as well as the huge number, now 6.6 million, who have dropped out of the workforce altogether.

"The stagnation of the labour market in particular is a grave concern not only because of the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for many years," he said.

These were the Fed chief's strongest words yet over the jobs market, and reflected what Americans feel on the ground.

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