WASHINGTON (AP) — The jobs outlook in the U.S. brightened a bit Thursday just before President Barack Obama was to make his case for re-election to the American people.
Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government reported. And companies boosted hiring in August, according to a private survey.
A far more consequential report politically — the government's unemployment and hiring figures for August — will come out Friday, just as the presidential race enters its stretch run. Jobs are the core issue in the race, and that report could sway some undecided voters.
There will be two additional employment reports before Election Day. But by then, more Americans will have made up their minds.
"It's the most important economic data point we have between now and Election Day," said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman under President George W. Bush.
Friday's jobs data is unlikely to signal significant improvement in the still-sluggish economy.
Economists' consensus forecast is that employers added 135,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by FactSet. That's below July's gain of 163,000. And it's probably not enough to bring down the unemployment rate, which is forecast to remain at 8.3 percent.
That would let Republican nominee Mitt Romney point to 43 straight months in which unemployment has exceeded 8 percent.
At the same time, Friday's report will almost surely mark a 30th straight month of private-sector job gains, a point Obama and his allies are certain to spotlight.
"The president's supporters will say, 'See, it's improving,' and the supporters of Gov. Romney will say, 'See, it's not improving fast enough,'" said Robert Shapiro, an economist and former trade official under President Bill Clinton.
The biggest threat to Obama would be a rise in the unemployment rate, the most visible economic statistic for most voters. The rate declined slightly in the spring but is now back where it was in January.
For the White House, higher unemployment would offset any political benefit from slow but consistent job creation. Voters are likely to ask, "If you're creating jobs every month, why is the rate going in the wrong way?" Fratto said.
A drop in unemployment would enable Obama to focus on social issues that might play better with the independent voters he needs in battleground states. Polls show Obama has an edge on Romney on social issues, while Romney has a slight advantage on the economy.
"It makes it easier for the president to continue attacks on women's health care, immigration and every other differentiation with Republicans," said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist.
Obama is likely to have gotten an advance peek at Friday's job figures before his speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention. The report is normally sent to the White House the day before its release.
Thursday's government data on the job market exceeded economists' expectations. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 12,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 365,000. And ADP, a payroll provider, estimated that companies added 201,000 jobs last month, the most since March.
A third report found that service sector companies expanded at a faster pace last month. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said its services index rose to 53.7 from 52.6 in July. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. Service businesses such as stores, hotels and financial companies reported sharp hiring gains.
Still, the ISM's report hasn't always closely matched the government's more authoritative employment report. And the ADP survey covers only private-sector hiring.
At least 200,000 jobs a month are needed to lower the unemployment rate. The economy has averaged only 150,000 new jobs a month since the start of 2011.
"Clearly, this is not an economy on track to the fast lane," said Chris Jones, an economist at TD Bank.
A weak employment report could nudge the Federal Reserve to announce some new action to boost growth after its meeting next week.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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