The Labor Department reported Friday the nation's jobless rate improved to 7.8 percent in September. The unemployment rate hasn't been that low since Obama took the oath of office in January 2009.
What's more, the 0.3 point improvement in the unemployment rate from August to September is, thus far, the greatest improvement in the unemployment rate this year. The year began with an 8.3 percent jobless rate.
"I think it's very significant, and I'm very surprised. I didn't think it was going to be as dramatic as it was," said Raphael J. Sonenshein, director of The Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
The question of whether the unemployment rate will be above or below 8 percent has become something of a benchmark in political discourse during the present campaign. Although that figure may be a fairly arbitrary way to measure the Obama Administration's successes or failures, news that unemployment has fallen below the 8 percent line may make it harder for Republicans to gather momentum from Romney's debate performance earlier in the week.
"Campaign events have to go in tandem," Sonenshein said. "If you have a great debate like Romney did, you want to have a few good things to happen to follow it.
With Friday's jobs report on the record, the president and other Democrats heralded the data as a sign of an improving economy. Romney responded with an argument that labor markets are still too weak.
"Today's news should give us some encouragement," Obama said at rally held at Cleveland State University. "It shouldn't be an excuse for the other side to try to talk down the economy just to try to score a few political points."
Or to put it another way, the report may have saved Obama from a disastrous week after his own weak debate performance.
"It was a very needed result for Barack Obama," said Shirley Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at USC Price School of Public Policy. "The first thing I thought when I heard about it this morning is `that man is the luckiest man alive."'
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Cerritos, and Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, were among Southern California political figures who issued statements saying job report shows the country is headed in a positive direction.
Eric C. Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, likewise celebrated the news while acknowledging Americans are awaiting further improvements.
"This jobs report is terrific news; it shows private sector jobs are continuing to expand," he said.
"We still have a long way to go ... We still have too many people who are unemployed. We still have too many people who are underemployed."
The new 7.8 percent unemployment rate still calculates to more than 12 million Americans being out of work despite looking for a job in September. Also, the number of Americans employed part-time for economic reasons increased from 8 million to 8.6 million last month.
At a campaign appearance in Virginia, Romney responded to Friday's news by asserting the jobs data has not shown enough improvements to justify another term for the president.
"These are tough times in this community," Romney told a rally outside a Virginia construction equipment store where he spoke after meeting laid-off coal miners. "We're going to bring back jobs and bring back America."
Similarly, San Bernardino County Republican Party chairman Robert Rego and former state Senate minority leader Jim Brulte said the report may not be enough to convince voters who are anxious about the economy that good times are on the way.
In particular, Rego pointed to the substantial increase of part-time jobs as a sign many voters may not feel their long-term economic prospects are improving.
"When people realize the situation is still dire, it's not going to have an impact on the election," Rego said.
Brulte, who now leads the political consulting group California Strategies, maintained the improvement in the unemployment rate has happened to late in the campaign to change voters' views on the economy.
The last time the unemployment rate fell 0.3 point in a re-election year was when the jobless rate improved to 7.3 percent in October 1992. That was right before George H.W. Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.
"If it has an effect, it will be a placebo effect," Brulte said. "It's mainly that the hard-core Obama supporters are happier, but all historical evidence is that somewhere around Labor Day, Americans make up their minds as to whether the economy is doing well."
Those kinds of criticisms didn't go as far as others that made their way to social media platforms like Twitter, where former General Electric CEO Jack Welch insinuated the Labor Department put out false numbers to support the president's reelection campaign.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers ... these Chicago guys will do anything ... can't debate so change numbers," Welch wrote.
University of Redlands economist Johannes Moenius said some aspects of the new jobs numbers are confusing, but he doesn't see signs of outright falsehood.
One reason the report can be hard to understand is that while one survey used to produce the data showed an increase of 114,000 nonfarm jobs, another survey of households, showed total employment rose by 873,000 persons last month.
That's a big gap between the two numbers, and Moenius said it's possible the household survey may reflect large numbers of people reporting work at a family business or by attempting to start their own enterprise.
He expects more clarity in two weeks, when state officials release more localized data.
"That should give us some insight as to where this job creation really happened," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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