Nice work, if you can...

Isn't election year politicking fun? It never ceases to amaze experienced observers how things can be so incredibly important during the campaign, and then instantly fade into complete insignificance as soon as the political value of the subject is no longer relevant.

One of the prime examples of this is the new—for—the—2004—election statistic 'Non—farm payrolls,' otherwise known as the 'Jobs Report.' (For the sake of accuracy, this statistic wasn't new for 2004, but its political importance reached new heights in this past election.) When the U.S. economy absorbed the multiple shocks of the 9/11 attacks (with their resulting negative ripple effects through the airline, travel, and tourist sectors), the corporate scandals of Enron, Tyco, and others, and the natural cyclical business retreat following the aberrant, artificial employment run—up in the '90's that was fueled by the unwarranted but frenzied internet hysteria and irrational Y2K fears, there was a loss in net employment.

The exact number of jobs lost remains in some dispute, depending, naturally, on the source consulted and the motivations of the person answering the query. These considerations aside, there is general agreement that the number of jobs lost following the attacks of 9/11 was somewhere in the area of 2—2.5 million.

The Democrats jumped on this as a point of political advantage, and while conveniently ignoring the highly unusual reasons for the job losses, immediately attempted to pin the losses on President Bush's economic policies and tax cuts.

Thus gave rise to a new battleground of political/economic warfare: The Jobs Report. Every first Friday of the month, at approximately 8:30 AM, the Non—Farm Payroll report would be released for the preceding month, and we'd all learn how many new jobs the economy created as it worked its way through its recovery. It was usually one of the lead stories in every news broadcast, and even the casual news consumer would parrot the reported number in conversation as if it were some kind of national sports batting average.

Economic experts, as is their wont, were sharply divided over exactly what number constituted strong jobs growth.  Some said that nothing short of 200—250,000 new jobs per month could be considered real growth, while experts on the other side of the fence pointed to ANY positive number, regardless of size, as an indication that the economy was moving forward. Democrats were gleeful that President Bush was seemingly headed to become the first president since Hoover to preside over a net jobs loss in his first term. Republicans were frantically explaining the once—in—a—lifetime confluence of circumstances that led to the loss of jobs, but were hopeful that the month—by—month totals would pull Bush into the plus column before the entire subject became an inescapable liability.

The Jobs Report had replaced the previously accepted standard measurement of employment strength, the Unemployment Rate. For years, decades even, the Unemployment Rate was the universally recognized measure of the state of the economy's employment health. The problem for the Democrats, and the mainstream media, was that this well—accepted yardstick of employment didn't carry sufficiently bad news for the Republican administration. With unemployment numbers consistently in the mid—5%—to—low—6% range for most of his presidency (indisputably excellent by historical standards), the Democrats needed to focus on a number that they could leverage for maximum political gain. The monthly Jobs Report was that number.

Early in 2004, when there was a 3—month stretch in which over 900,000 jobs were created, the Democrats changed the basis of their attacks. They went from blaming Bush's economic policy for doing a poor job of expanding the employment market to saying that even with the new strong employment numbers, he'll still likely have a net jobs loss. Then, as monthly job creation slowed somewhat approaching the election, the 'Bush's policies are no good' attacks resumed.

In the end, the Democrats' opportunistic obsession with the Jobs Reports numbers didn't matter a whit. At election time, the economy WAS strong, as witnessed by record home—building activity, an extremely strong showing by the automotive industry, and crowded malls and restaurants. Most of the electorate could feel it on the street, in their everyday lives, despite efforts by the anti—Bush faction (which included the major media) to talk the economy down.

Perhaps the most fascinating proof of the transparent, disingenuous nature of the Democrats' 'concern' over jobs creation is that there has been virtually no mention of the monthly jobs number by them since the election. The economy is in very good shape, by any standard. Employment is up, corporate sales and profits are very good, retail sales are excellent, unemployment claims are modest, the stock market has gained over 35% off its post—9/11 lows, and the employment prospects for new graduates are excellent. We'll look back from the low point of the next inevitable business cycle and think of the period beginning in 2003 as the 'good old days.' No amount of negative demagoging by Democratic naysayers can alter that reality.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.

Isn't election year politicking fun? It never ceases to amaze experienced observers how things can be so incredibly important during the campaign, and then instantly fade into complete insignificance as soon as the political value of the subject is no longer relevant.

One of the prime examples of this is the new—for—the—2004—election statistic 'Non—farm payrolls,' otherwise known as the 'Jobs Report.' (For the sake of accuracy, this statistic wasn't new for 2004, but its political importance reached new heights in this past election.) When the U.S. economy absorbed the multiple shocks of the 9/11 attacks (with their resulting negative ripple effects through the airline, travel, and tourist sectors), the corporate scandals of Enron, Tyco, and others, and the natural cyclical business retreat following the aberrant, artificial employment run—up in the '90's that was fueled by the unwarranted but frenzied internet hysteria and irrational Y2K fears, there was a loss in net employment.

The exact number of jobs lost remains in some dispute, depending, naturally, on the source consulted and the motivations of the person answering the query. These considerations aside, there is general agreement that the number of jobs lost following the attacks of 9/11 was somewhere in the area of 2—2.5 million.

The Democrats jumped on this as a point of political advantage, and while conveniently ignoring the highly unusual reasons for the job losses, immediately attempted to pin the losses on President Bush's economic policies and tax cuts.

Thus gave rise to a new battleground of political/economic warfare: The Jobs Report. Every first Friday of the month, at approximately 8:30 AM, the Non—Farm Payroll report would be released for the preceding month, and we'd all learn how many new jobs the economy created as it worked its way through its recovery. It was usually one of the lead stories in every news broadcast, and even the casual news consumer would parrot the reported number in conversation as if it were some kind of national sports batting average.

Economic experts, as is their wont, were sharply divided over exactly what number constituted strong jobs growth.  Some said that nothing short of 200—250,000 new jobs per month could be considered real growth, while experts on the other side of the fence pointed to ANY positive number, regardless of size, as an indication that the economy was moving forward. Democrats were gleeful that President Bush was seemingly headed to become the first president since Hoover to preside over a net jobs loss in his first term. Republicans were frantically explaining the once—in—a—lifetime confluence of circumstances that led to the loss of jobs, but were hopeful that the month—by—month totals would pull Bush into the plus column before the entire subject became an inescapable liability.

The Jobs Report had replaced the previously accepted standard measurement of employment strength, the Unemployment Rate. For years, decades even, the Unemployment Rate was the universally recognized measure of the state of the economy's employment health. The problem for the Democrats, and the mainstream media, was that this well—accepted yardstick of employment didn't carry sufficiently bad news for the Republican administration. With unemployment numbers consistently in the mid—5%—to—low—6% range for most of his presidency (indisputably excellent by historical standards), the Democrats needed to focus on a number that they could leverage for maximum political gain. The monthly Jobs Report was that number.

Early in 2004, when there was a 3—month stretch in which over 900,000 jobs were created, the Democrats changed the basis of their attacks. They went from blaming Bush's economic policy for doing a poor job of expanding the employment market to saying that even with the new strong employment numbers, he'll still likely have a net jobs loss. Then, as monthly job creation slowed somewhat approaching the election, the 'Bush's policies are no good' attacks resumed.

In the end, the Democrats' opportunistic obsession with the Jobs Reports numbers didn't matter a whit. At election time, the economy WAS strong, as witnessed by record home—building activity, an extremely strong showing by the automotive industry, and crowded malls and restaurants. Most of the electorate could feel it on the street, in their everyday lives, despite efforts by the anti—Bush faction (which included the major media) to talk the economy down.

Perhaps the most fascinating proof of the transparent, disingenuous nature of the Democrats' 'concern' over jobs creation is that there has been virtually no mention of the monthly jobs number by them since the election. The economy is in very good shape, by any standard. Employment is up, corporate sales and profits are very good, retail sales are excellent, unemployment claims are modest, the stock market has gained over 35% off its post—9/11 lows, and the employment prospects for new graduates are excellent. We'll look back from the low point of the next inevitable business cycle and think of the period beginning in 2003 as the 'good old days.' No amount of negative demagoging by Democratic naysayers can alter that reality.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.