Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is Bush Now Less Vulnerable on Jobs? ; Signs of a Rising Economy Help Offset What Had Been a Key Bush Liability, Though Employment Remains Soft in Areas

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is Bush Now Less Vulnerable on Jobs? ; Signs of a Rising Economy Help Offset What Had Been a Key Bush Liability, Though Employment Remains Soft in Areas

Article excerpt

One of the biggest questions surrounding President Bush's reelection has long been whether he would repeat the path of his father - becoming a popular wartime president brought down by a sluggish economy.

Increasingly, however, the economic outlook is looking less like an Achilles' heel for Mr. Bush than a possible advantage, or more likely, a wash.

If last month's burst of job creation - 308,000 new jobs, according to the Labor Department - is a sign of things to come, it could neutralize what many Democrats had assumed would be Bush's biggest vulnerability. For months, as the president has touted positive economic signs such as low interest rates and high home sales, Democrats have responded by hammering on the loss of jobs - focusing on the collapse of the manufacturing sector and the flow of jobs overseas. Just last week, in fact, Bush's rival, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, released a new ad attacking Bush on outsourcing.

The economic picture remains somewhat murky: Unemployment actually crept up last month, and Bush may still wind up as the only president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net loss in jobs. Still, the jump in job creation - the biggest in four years - has unquestionably put the president in a stronger position as he touts his economic record on the campaign trail. If the trend line stays positive between now and November, analysts say the political impact of the issue could be greatly reduced.

"Politically, what you need is from now until November for the numbers to be positive each month," says Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group. If there are even a few more months with healthy job-creation numbers, he says, "then it becomes difficult [for Democrats] to argue that things aren't moving forward, even on jobs."

Many economic analysts believe the new job-creation numbers are indeed the start of a broader trend - indicating a normal economic recovery, as opposed to a jobless one.

"The productivity rubber band has been stretched as far as it can be," says Ken Mayland, president of Clear View Economics, an economic research and forecasting firm. "We got all the growth we could out of working - or overworking - the existing labor force. To get an increment in economic growth, you need more people working."

Haseeb Ahmed, an economist with Economy.com, is even more optimistic: "The labor market is in full recovery, as opposed to tepid recovery," he says.

Still, Mr. Ahmed offers a note of caution, saying it will take four or five months of strong growth before the turnaround is truly assured. And he and Mr. Mayland note a few troubling signs, such as the fact that the average length of the work week dropped. Typically, employers expand the work week before adding new jobs.

Certainly, there are risks for Bush in sounding overly positive about the nation's employment picture based on one positive jobs report, given the number of Americans who are still out of work. …

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