Sandy and the Jobless Rate: Obama Wins the Fourth Debate

Sandy and the Jobless Rate: Obama Wins the Fourth Debate


History may show that during the presidential elections of 2012 that there was a fourth presidential debate, a debate that was moderated by a hurricane named after a character in Sponge Bob Square Pants, and the last jobs report. History may also show that Barack Obama won that debate; a debate that was broken down into two phases: the president as chief emergency responder and the president as steward of the economy.

As chief emergency responder, President Obama took full advantage of the spotlight almost immediately after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. Through the Federal Emergency Management agency (FEMA), Mr. Obama was able to into action the vision of the country’s founders when it came to the chief executive. A president is expected to respond to national emergencies decisively and with speed, unencumbered by the strict rules of procedure that a Congress faces.

Because of FEMA’s role as a coordinator of the federal government’s role in emergency response, Mr. Obama had the advantage of looking like someone who is totally engaged and supportive while maintaining space between himself and the real leadership on the ground.

As steward of the economy, Mr. Obama is sitting in the Oval Office at about the right time. Today’s unemployment rate registered at 7.9% for the month of October, registering slightly above the 7.8% rate for September. The unemployment rate inched up because more people were encouraged to enter the labor force and look for work.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates some 578,000 people entered the labor force, while the number of people reporting themselves as employed grew by 410,000. The number of unemployed also grew by 170,000 in October.

The labor force is made up of individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 who are either working or over the last four weeks have been looking for work. Based on the definition, new and returning entrants will drive up the unemployment rate, the measure of people in the labor force who are not working.

Can the Obama Administration claim that the average number of additionally employed each month, 157,000 people since January 2012, is a direct result of its policies? Today in Hilliard, Ohio, Mr. Obama during a speech incorporated the progress he has made on foreign policy with the progress of the economy. Is this really a victory for his Administration? Politically, maybe; policy wise, no.

Labor, like any other resource, has to play the rule of demand and supply. Unless the United States turned into a socialist republic overnight then no Administration can lay directly claim to job creation. What we may be seeing is a thawing of the freeze on hiring decisions that perceived lack of consumer demand can engender.

According to the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Survey released yesterday, the consumer confidence index increased to 72.2 in October from 68.4 in September. According to the Conference Board’s Lynn Franco, Consumers were considerably more positive in their assessment of current conditions, with improvements in the job market as the major driver. Consumers were modestly more upbeat about their financial situation and the short-term economic outlook, and appear to be in better spirits approaching the holiday season.”

This is not the kind of confidence a divided government can lay claim to. For example, President Obama has still been unable to persuade this Congress to pass a jobs bill that awaits approval from the Republican controlled House, and GOP leadership along with the Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney have been threatening repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Dodd Frank Act. Not exactly shining examples of the cooperation that Americans need to see if the nation wants to steer clear of the economic disaster the pending fiscal cliff in January may cause.

But in a silly season where perception and candidate rhetoric takes up the space of data and reasoned analysis, Mr. Obama may have the upper hand in this “fourth debate”. Question is, will this win give him enough of an edge going into Tuesday.