"What the vote equation suggests is that if the economy has been growing at the time of the election, even though the level of the unemployment rate may still be above full employment, then voters take that as a positive sign," Fair said.
Conceivably, Romney can't continue to ignore or brush aside declining unemployment rates, as it is a crucial component voters use to make a presidential pick. Conversely, the Obama campaign can't rely on one or two months of better-than-expected results to win the majority of the electorate.
"But it's not just one month, it's the growth rate over the whole year that matters," Fair said. "So, if this kind of growth rate continued over the entire year, or up until the election, then of course that would be a positive for [Obama], but just one month is not enough to be able to say too much."
Returning to the hard jobs numbers, it's also important for voters to dig further to get a fuller sense of what they mean.
Labor-force participation rates, for example, have an effect month to month. After two successive surprise months, (December unemployment dropped to 8.5% and then January unemployment dropped to 8.3%) Weiman said it could motivate those people who haven't actively sought employment to re-enter the market. This influx could cause an uptick in unemployment numbers as more people would have leaped back into the work-finding process, thus inflating the total number of employment seekers, while the same number of job openings would have remained the same.
"What you want to say is that there is job growth, and that's important sign of economic expansion, but is it robust enough to start whittling away at the -- it's like this huge stock, huge number of unemployed or underemployed individuals," Weiman said. "And the answer is it looks like no, because [December] you still saw people leaving the labor market."
Working age adults not participating in the labor force in January,
increased by 88,000
. Translation for Obama's re-election hopes? Wait and see.
-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.