At a time of slow job growth, it's one of the most thankless jobs in Washington. The first Friday of every month, the Obama administration's economic spokespeople fan out to television studios, dial in to radio shows and hold briefings. This morning, Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, stepped out into the sweltering sun to speak with The Daily Ticker about the jobs numbers. As the accompanying video shows, it's tough to put an optimistic gloss on the figures.
It's impossible to divorce the jobs figures from the current election campaign. For Romney, each poor jobs report opens a clear opening. On Friday, his campaign got back on message. Romney called the report "disturbing" and a "kick in the gut" and reiterated his charge that President Obama has failed to get the economy moving.
For the Obama administration, the response is more complicated and less declarative. And in our interview, Krueger followed a four-step formula.
First, look backward. Presented with disappointing data in the current months, the administration urges us to focus on how far the economy has come from its depths. "I try to step back and put the numbers in context," Krueger told me. "We've now had 28 months in a row where the private sector has created jobs 4.4 million."
Second, without mentioning the guy's name, place the blame on the president whose name rhymes with "mush."
"When the president came into office we were losing 700,000 jobs per month," said Kreuger. "We are on a better path than we have been on." When asked why companies aren't filling the large number of openings, Krueger didn't focus on the current lack of aggregate demand or confidence. Instead, he cited three phenomena that predate the Obama administration. "The problems that the economy is facing have been building up for some time, long before the president came into office. We weren't creating enough middle-class jobs, also our education system failed to keep up with the demands of the workplace." Krueger also suggested that the housing crisis is making it harder for workers to move to areas where there are lots of job openings.
Third, look elsewhere. In June, both hours worked and wages rose. That means companies responded to rising demand by asking existing workers to work harder (and pay them a little more for doing so) rather than hiring new people. "I think that companies were cautious in June" about adding new workers, he said. Why? "The survey was done just before the elections were held in Greece."
Fourth, blame Congress. This afternoon, the president will sign a rare piece of legislation that received bi-partisan backing: the transportation bill. But Krueger argues that more could be done if only Congress would pass other measures backed by the administration. "The transportation act will give contractors more confidence going forward," he said. "We have unacceptably high unemployment among construction workers.
"If Congress would pass the president's proposal to create an infrastructure bank and invest more money to build highways and ports, that would put more people to work." Krueger also noted that Obama has proposed a measure that would provide more cash to local governments so they can stop laying off teachers and first responders.
There's truth to all the points Krueger makes. But it adds up to something of a word salad. When the jobs report disappoints, the bully pulpit the president enjoys melts in the heat.
Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance.
Follow him on Twitter @grossdm; email him at email@example.com.
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