Weak jobs figures are woe for Obama – US politics live

Latest figures on jobs show slow growth while US diplomats win concessions from China to release Chen Guangcheng – live coverage

2.31pm: Remember the Michele Bachmann presidential campaign? A creepy interviewer does:

David Brody: You ran pretty much an impeccable campaign, in terms of a mistake-free campaign.

Michele Bachmann: Thank you, it really was.

It did only make one tiny mistake: Michele Bachmann running for president. Other than that, flawless. Well, apart from the other mistakes:

While on the campaign trail, Bachmann said that cowboy actor John Wayne was born in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. In fact, it was the infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy who was born there. The Minnesota congresswoman later wished singer Elvis Presley a happy birthday on the 34th anniversary of the iconic singer’s death.

Oh and then there was the mysterious woman that Bachmann claimed approached her after one debate and said that her daughter “suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine,” Gardasil.

But again, her only real mistake was thinking that anyone really wanted Michele Bachmann to be president. Everything else was minor in comparison.

2.05pm: This is weird. Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, discussing his recent breakfast meeting with fellow rich person Mitt Romney:

“Would you say we’re close friends? Probably not,” Mr Bloomberg said. “But if I saw him on the street I’d say, ‘Hi, Mitt’; he’d say, ‘Hi, Mike.’

What is this, high school? That comes from Bloomberg’s weekly radio show today. According to the New York Times, Bloomberg went on:

Mr Bloomberg said that he had regaled Mr Romney with facts and superlatives about New York City’s successes in recent years, including higher life expectancy and low crime rates. “He just kept saying, ‘That’s amazing,'” the mayor said.

1.49pm: Rick Santorum had a meeting with Mitt Romney in Pittsburgh today – although there was nothing immediately resulting, a Santorum endorsement of Romney can’t be far off.

In case you have been missing the politician who put the no-sex back into sweater vests, NBC’s Andrew Rafferty has a long look at the inner workings of the Santorum campaign. Specifically its lack of money:

It meant Santorum was cheap. He had to be. Staffers would grin and bear it when they found themselves sharing rooms at inexpensive hotels. The candidate only had one standard that all lodging needed to meet: wherever they stayed, it had to provide a free breakfast.

There was no campaign headquarters until the late stages of his candidacy. The Verona, Pennsylvania, address on mailers and press releases was nothing more than a PO Box in the Keystone State. When they finally rented a space in northern Virginia, the few staffers who migrated there stayed with friends to save the cost of paying for a hotel.

1.26pm: The New York Times takes a hard look at Mitt Romney‘s 500,000 job growth scenario, and calls the half a million figure “a historic aberration”:

In the last 50 years, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added that many jobs in a single month just five times. Presidents John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Richard M Nixon, Gerald R Ford, George HW Bush and George W Bush all spent their entire time in office without ever seeing a month where the country added 500,000 or more jobs.

Only three presidents in the last half century ever saw the kind of growth Mr Romney envisioned, and even then it was never sustained at that level. The country added more than 500,000 jobs a month just twice under Jimmy Carter and just once each during the eight-year presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. President Obama saw growth that large once in 2010 before it tapered off again.

Jimmy Carter? Yes indeed: March and April 1978 saw job growth above 500,000, including a stonking 702,000 in April. And yet he still lost in 1980.

1.05pm: Looking at the details of the job numbers in April, it’s not great but it’s not without merit either.

One point is that the March job figure of 120,000 – which was a similar disappointment at the time – has been revised up to 154,000, a far better number. It’s more than possible that April’s total will later be revised up – but the White House will have already reaped the bad news.

Robin Harding in the FT reports:

Details within the report were mixed but included several signs of underlying economic weakness. On the positive side, temporary recruitment rose by a solid 21,100 jobs. Companies often take on temporary staff as a prelude to adding permanent positions.

Less encouraging were stagnant working hours and wages in April, taking the year-on-year pace of wage rises down to 1.8%, which will do little to fuel stronger consumption.

On the wage data: average earnings in the private sector rose by just one cent compared with March, to $23.38 an hour. The message here for the Federal Reserve is that there’s no sign of inflation in the labour market pipeline.

12.38pm: Mitt Romney, meanwhile is also speaking about the latest jobs figures to an audience in Pittburgh.

Romney’s doubling down on his previous statement today about the 500,000 monthly jobs growth. In Pittsburgh he’s says: “Anything over 4% is not cause for celebration.”

On the bright side for Democrats: he’s making it easy to write the opposition attack ads for the 2016 campaign.

The last time US unemployment was below 4% was in late 2000 – at the height of the dotcom bubble. And the time before that? 1970.

12.22pm: President Obama is speaking this morning to students at Washington-Lee high school in Arlington, Virginia. And he’s immediately talking about the jobs figures out today.

Obama is naturally keen to accentuate the positive, pointing out that the latest figures brings jobs growth to more than 4.2m new jobs in last 26 months, and more than a million jobs created in the last 6 months alone.

But: “There are still a lot of folks out of work,” says Obama, and adds that he will be presenting some “common sense ideas” to Congress next week to improve job growth.

12.10pm: Anne Coulter, as tasteful as ever:

Funny or not, you decide. I couldn’t possibly comment.

11.58am: Mitt Romney‘s line this morning on the latest jobs figures – “We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs per month. This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery” – is ambitious, not to say unlikely.

Think Progress points out there have been only four times in the past 50 years when monthly jobs growth has been 500,000 or above. So, it’s not impossible but unusual and certainly not for a sustained period.

Update: In fact monthly job growth has been above the 500,000 figure five times in the last 50 years.

11.39am: Mitt Romney has finally addressed the controversy regarding Richard Grenell, the openly gay foreign policy spokesman who abruptly quit after being hired by Romney’s campaign only two weeks earlier.

Grenell and his supporters have suggested that he was hounded out by the hostile reaction from social conservatives, and the the Romney campaign didn’t fight back on his behalf.

Speaking on Fox News this morning, Romney said Grenell was a “capable individual” and that his senior campaign staff had urged him not to leave:

He’s a very accomplished spokesperson, and we select people not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender but upon their capability… He expressed a desire to move on and I wish him the very best.

That’s not exactly a robust defence of Grenell by Romney.

11.13am: The French newspaper Libération reports some disturbing new allegations regarding the former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and evidence heard by French magistrates in Lille involving Strauss-Kahn at the W Hotel in Washington DC in late 2010:

Cette requête des magistrats lillois s’appuie sur les dépositions de deux escort girls et concerne des faits s’étant déroulés à Washington entre le 15 et le 18 décembre 2010. A cette date, les «amis» nordistes de DSK lui rendent visite pour un séjour de trois jours dans la capitale des Etats-Unis. Ils sont accompagnés par deux prostituées belges, Marie-Anne S., alors âgée de 25 ans et Aurélie D., 26 ans. Présentées comme des «secrétaires d’Eiffage», elles toucheront 2 500 euros pour le voyage. Le 16 décembre au soir, tous les participants se rendent dans la chambre de Marie-Anne, Marion de son nom d’escort girl, à l’hôtel W.

If true that could open DSK up to prosecution in the US, although the chances of his visiting this side of the Atlantic again are already slim.

10.54am: The loose coalition that we call the Tea Party looks like it may be about to pick off another establishment Republican scalp.

In Indiana, a new poll shows veteran Republican senator Dick Lugar trailing by 10 percentage points behind upstart challenger Richard Mourdock in the Republican party primary to be held there on Tuesday.

The Indianapolis Star reports:

The poll shows a dramatic slide for Lugar, who in his last election in 2006 won with more than 80% of the vote after Democrats considered him so unbeatable that they didn’t field a candidate against him.

If Dick Lugar can be taken down in Indiana after six terms in office, then no Republican incumbent in a red state is safe if they deviate from conservative orthodoxy.

10.35am: Dean Baker of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research looks at the latest employment figures and suggests the early warm weather this year played a part in April’s disappointing numbers:

Clearly much of this story is bounce back, where the unusually good winter weather brought much hiring forward…. In the clearest case of a weather effect, construction employment has edged down by 6,000 since January after increasing 44,000 from November to January.

In other words, hiring that would normally have happened in the spring proper occurred a few months earlier.

Baker also points out that higher job growth is coming in demand for lower-skilled positions:

It’s worth noting that 93.1% of the private sector jobs created over the last year were classified as production non-supervisory jobs. This compares to 82.4% of jobs falling in this category last year. These are generally thought to be less-skilled positions. This implies that job growth is most rapid at the middle and bottom of the labor force right now, rather than at the top, as many have claimed.

10.16am: The Guardian’s Harry Enten points to this astonishingly accurate forecast of April’s employment figures made two days ago by Automatic Data Processing, a private sector payroll processing firm (it sends out paychecks, basically).

ADP forecast that private business sector employment increased by 119,000 from March to April, seasonally adjusted. The actually number from the Labor Department was 130,000. (The headline figure of 115,000 includes government employment, which lost jobs in April.)

In comparison, a survey of Wall Street forecasters was guesstimating that 163,000 jobs had been added in April.

10.11am: This is the jobs chart the White House would like to focus on:

Notice that it is “private sector payroll”. That’s because the government workforce – local, state and federal – has been a big source of job losses in the past year.

10.02am: One puzzling thing about the April jobs figures: although job creation was weak at just 115,000 during the month – below the rate of population growth – the overall national unemployment rate still fell, from 8.2% in March to 8.1%.

The explanation is that the unemployment rate is based on a household survey of the labour force participation. In April fewer people reported to the survey that they were actively looking for work, meaning that the overall labour force – which includes those in work and those looking for work – has shrunk because of those who have stopped looking rather than because they have found jobs.

Counter-intuitively, if the economy and job growth were stronger, the unemployment rate may have actually risen as those who had given up were lured back into the work force by the prospect of finding jobs.

But that is still only one part of the equation. The unemployment rate was 9.1% in August last year, and since then it has fallen by one percentage point to 8.1%. As noted by Alan Krueger, nearly three-quarters of that fall is because of increased employment rather than discouragement.

9.54am: Alan Krueger, chair of the White House’s council of economic advisers, says “much more remains to be done to repair the damage caused by the financial crisis and the deep recession,” but looks for some silver lining in the April jobs figures:

Despite adverse shocks that have created headwinds for economic growth the economy has added private sector jobs for 26 straight months, for a total of 4.25 million payroll jobs over that period. With upward revisions of 65,000 jobs to the past two months’ employment reports, in the first quarter of 2012 private employment expanded by 697,000 jobs, the largest quarterly increase since the first quarter of 2006. So far this year, 827,000 private sector jobs have been added, on net.

Manufacturing continues to be a bright spot and added 16,000 jobs in April. After losing millions of good manufacturing jobs in the years before and during the recession, the economy has added 489,000 manufacturing jobs since January 2010.

9.46am: After the US’s delicate negotiations with China over the fate of Chen Guangcheng appeared to have been derailed yesterday, the State Department is now taking a far more optimistic tone.

Here’s the latest statement from Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson:

The Chinese Government stated today that Mr Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.

This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative US-China partnership.

The Guardian’s Tania Branigan reports from Beijing that the Chinese foreign ministry has issued a statement saying Chen can apply to study abroad:

A state news agency report on the comments was carried prominently on Chinese news websites – possibly hinting that Beijing was willing to consider another deal. Chen had initially agreed to remain in China and study, with reassurances on his safety from the government, but changed his mind after leaving the US embassy in Beijing.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, speaking in Beijing on Friday, said she was encouraged by China’s statement and believed “progress has been made” in helping Chen determine his future.

9.40am: There’s much debate over the meaning and significance of the April jobs total. But Mitt Romney has certainly nailed his colours to the mast this morning on what the rate of jobs growth should be:

Presumably Romney would rather win in November and worry about hostages to fortune later.

9.30am: The US economy takes centre stage once again following the news that April saw just 115,000 new jobs added to the workforce – a figure below expectations of around 160,000 new jobs that reinforces fears that the recovery is not as buoyant as had been hoped.

Overall, the US unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% – but that was the result of discouraged workers dropping out of the labour force by not hunting for work during the month.

Republicans were quick to blame the White House for the disappointing numbers, with both presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Speaker of the House John Boehner arguing that the economy should be creating jobs at a faster rate, with Romney telling Fox News that it should be adding 500,000 new posts a month at this stage.

But there’s better news for the Obama administration on the foreign stage, as US diplomats appear to have reached a deal with China to allow the activist Chen Guangcheng to leave the country and study in the US.

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