8.6% doesn't help Obama much

More to be done here.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The November jobs report contains some undeniably good news for President Obama, but the White House should keep the champagne on ice for now.

The Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6% in November, the lowest since March 2009 and a sharp improvement from 9.0% in October.

That part of the report is great news for the White House. The unemployment rate plays an important role in campaign rhetoric, and the closer the rate drops to 7.8% — that was the rate when Obama took office — the better it is for the White House.

And even that might not be enough to save the president’s job. Just consider this stat: No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won re-election with an unemployment rate over 7.2%.

Newt’s plan for the economy

But it would be a mistake to put too much emphasis on the unemployment rate. A more useful predictor of electoral success is the actual number of jobs created, and beyond that, how Americans feel about he economy.

And there, the news isn’t so good for the White House.

The labor market still has a long way to go to recover from the financial crisis. Less than a third of all the 8.8 million jobs shed have since been recovered. A whopping 13.3 million people remain unemployed and 43% of those have been out of work for more than six months.

And there are some important caveats to note when looking at Friday’s report.

For example, about half of the rate decrease is attributable to discouraged workers giving up entirely on their job search — not new job creation.

And employers added only 120,000 jobs in October — well off the number that economists say is needed just to keep pace with population growth.

America’s Choice 2012

Ryan McConaghy, director of economic program at centrist think tank Third Way, said the report was a “mixed bag.”

It would be a mistake, he said, to put too much emphasis on any one month’s report. Instead, the White House should focus on stringing together several months worth of solid reports.

And then, Americans might start feeling better about the economy. Right now, that’s not happening.

According to a CNN/ORC International poll released last week, only 15% say economic conditions are good, while six out of seven say conditions are poor, with a majority saying they are “very poor.”

The economy garners similarly dour results in the all-important swing states. Voters in those states slightly favor a Republican on unemployment, and Republicans also have a double digit lead on who would better handle the federal budget deficit and debt.

The bottom line: Job growth is still relatively anemic, the housing market is a mess and the festering European debt crisis threatens to drag down economic growth worldwide.

Considering those factors, Obama will likely enter the heart of the campaign season with unemployment near 8% — a real challenge for the White House. To top of page

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