Sickly Job Growth Sets Up Unhappy Choice for Obama

“14.5 percent”

-- U.S. unemployment rate in April including those who have given up looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The U.S. economy added a sickly 115,000 jobs in April, but as discouraged workers continued to leave the labor force, the benchmark unemployment rate nudged down from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent.

The more important number, the size of the potential labor force that is not employed, remained at a crushing 14.5 percent. Economists are alarmed not only at the puny jobs number in April but at the fact that the difference between the two figures, 6.4 percent, stands near an all-time high.


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Having 6.4 percent of the nation’s employable adults out of economic circulation is big trouble. For older adults in that category, they may never be able to return to work. For younger adults, it means a lifetime of lower wages and slower advancement if they eventually get back in the hunt and find a job.

In April, about 522,000 Americans left the labor force, making the addition of 115,000 jobs look all the more alarming. In 2011, about 2.7 million Americans left the work force while only 945,000 came in.

This is similar to what Europe, which has alternated between recession and stagnation for a decade, has experienced. Long-term unemployment begets permanent unemployment. Permanent unemployment begets lower economic output, higher welfare costs and eliminates hopes for more rapid growth.

Liberals and conservatives disagree sharply about how to solve this downward cycle, but both advocate forms of economic defibrillation for a patient in cardiac arrest. The left is calling for big stimulus spending – a round of borrowing and government spending to jolt the economy back to life. Conservatives want tax cuts and deep government spending cuts to spur investments and rein in massive federal debts.

The concern for President Obama is that not only will he have to talk more about the economy and his previous policies as the cycle continues, but that he may have to offer a new prescription to reverse the trend. The president has been calling for the nation to stay the course and give his prior policies a chance to work, meanwhile focusing on ancillary issues like income inequality and green energy.

If Obama is forced to make a broader policy prescription it will be a very bad. He can hardly call for another deficit-fueled stimulus given the low estimation in which voters hold his 2009 one. But neither can he move right and suddenly embrace tax cuts and austerity.

There is good news here though: The utter uselessness of the old baseline unemployment rate may have finally been fully exposed. The baseline is a useful indicator in times of growth or recession, but not during periods of stagnation.

Power Play Index: Obama + 15

If we take a broad perspective on which states are up for grabs – including unlikely swing states like Missouri (almost certainly Republican) and Michigan (almost certainly Democratic) we find Obama leading with 196 electoral votes to Romney’s 181 with 161 in the toss-up category.

(Toss-up states include: CO, FL, IA, MI, MO, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA and WI)

The Day in Quotes

“Dear Mr. President, Welcome to Ohio. I have a simple question for you: Where are the jobs?”

-- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney writing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer ahead of an Obama campaign stop at Ohio State University.

“A decision to use destructive force preemptively will be taken if the situation worsens.”

-- Nikolai Makarov, chief of staff for Russia’s military, speaking at a Moscow summit on missile defense with Western nations, talking about proposed U.S.-NATO missile defense installations in Eastern Europe.

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security. Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

-- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a speech to the Environmental Defense Fund, as quoted by The Washington Examiner.

“For over a year, the Department has issued false denials, given answers intended to misdirect investigators, sought to intimidate witnesses, unlawfully withheld subpoenaed documents, and waited to be confronted with indisputable evidence before acknowledging uncomfortable facts.”

-- Draft of a contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder being circulated by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa concerning the “Fast and Furious”

“It is very dangerous here.”

-- Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng talking to the Associated Press about reports that his friends and fellow foes of forced abortions and sterilizations have been beaten by authorities for trying to visit him since being returned to Chinese authorities by U.S. embassy officials.

“I believe the most important thing is that we respect each other and treat each other as equals and have accommodated each other's major concerns."  

-- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in remarks at the outset of economic negotiations with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"We believe that the China U.S. relationship is stronger than it's ever been. We have developed a very open and honest relationship where we can discuss our differences, and we remain committed to bridging those differences whenever and wherever possible."

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

“Yeah, I think, marginally so.”

-- Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, when asked by radio host Laura Ingraham if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would be a better president than Barack Obama.

“$94 million”

-- Amount spent through the end of March by President Obama’s re-election campaign, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“This is a very strong ad.  Unlike the ads about John Kerry, it's not about one story or another story.  This ad shows the words Obama has used himself.  So the facts are not in dispute.  It hits at several levels.  It isn't just that Obama has turned a positive into a negative by attacking and using it as a partisan weapon, which diminishes him also but diminishes the solemnity of the event that was national event and he appropriated it for himself.  It's the narcissism.  And that is the deeper issue -- how they quote Obama using the first personal pronoun in the announcement of the event.  ‘It's all about me. I did this.’  What about the guys out there that did it and risked their lives?”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on