The new unemployment numbers again out-performed expectations, and drove the unemployment rate down to 8.3%. Overall, 243,000 jobs were added in January and, importantly, the number of private sector jobs grew by 257,000. The number of government employees again dragged down the total, but by less than in previous months.
As I have mentioned before, throughout 2011, each month, the total jobless rate was affected by the fact that the much maligned Stimulus funding was evaporating and federal, state and local governments were shedding jobs. The government sector lost 276,000 jobs in the last year. If the government employment number is at or near bottoming out, that the growth in private sector jobs will be even more obvious.
Several news accounts picture the Romney campaign, which is built on the premise that Obama's economic record is a mess, as deeply worried that if the economy continues to improve, they will not have an argument to bring to the voters. That worry cuts both ways. In an election, if the economy is the issue, it tends to crowd out all other issues. If it is not the only issue, others bubble up. Which should worry Team Obama as much as it worries Team Romney. The bad economy has hurt Obama with white, working class voters, many of them ethnic Catholics, badly, but if the economy improves, those voters, once known as Reagan Democrats, might give Obama a second look. And what will they see? Someone who has just told their churches they have to start paying for abortifacients. Culturally conservative, white (and Latino) working class voters may not like what they see.