Mitt Romney Needs a New Economic Gripe

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Mitt Romney might need a new campaign message.

The February unemployment rate held steady at 8.3% from January while the labor-force participation rate increased, meaning more people were looking for jobs.

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month better-than-expected January unemployment numbers, Romney's typically critical response to blame President Barack Obama for sluggish growth seemed a bit more subdued.

"We welcome the fact that jobs were created and unemployment declined," Romney said in a statement on Feb. 3. "Unfortunately ... Nearly 24 million Americans remain unemployed, underemployed, or have just stopped looking for work. "

Romney has yet to issue a statement Friday on the February jobs report.

It's true that millions of Americans are unemployed, underemployed and not looking for work, but the economy added another 227,000 jobs in February -- the third straight monthly uptick -- and showed an upward revision of 61,000 jobs created in December and January.

Moreover, the labor force participation rate increased to 63.9%, up from 63.7%. Republican candidates have bemoaned this statistic as they've suggested unemployment has ticked slightly downward in recent months because the long-term unemployed have given up hope for work.

What looms for Romney, who seems likelier to win the GOP nomination for president, is to figure out how he might overhaul a campaign message that is heavily dependent on a sluggish economy with high unemployment as prospects begin to trend positively for Americans.

Unemployment could tick back up and labor-force participation rates could decline -- both of which help keep Romney on message. If these figures favor growth, however, it could be difficult for the former Massachusetts governor to convince undecided voters that choosing him would be better for the economy. It would be particularly difficult if the incumbent president appeared to be righting the shipwreck that began with the 2008 financial crisis his administration inherited.

Another scenario between now and November would be modest economic growth and a drop in unemployment, which would allow Romney to slam Obama for a lack of healthy recovery. In this case, Romney still can't be counted out as a legitimate contender to ascend to the White House.

" It's not just one month, it's the growth rate over the whole year that matters," Yale economist Ray Fair said in an interview last month.

There's plenty of time left before Americans choose their president, but as the months narrow and the economy expands, Romney might have to find a new gripe.

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-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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