NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- More than a year removed from President Barack Obama's resounding defeat of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, largely on a voter mandate that administration policies successfully pulled the U.S. economy from the worst recession since the Great Depression, jobs remain a central message driving the upcoming midterm elections.
The Labor Department reported Friday that in April the unemployment rate reached 6.3%, its lowest level since October 2008, and payrolls climbed a robust 288,000. But while economists and market strategists argued the good (headlines!) and the bad (hourly wages stagnated!), political candidates are scheming how they'll deliver their jobs platforms.
Democrats and Republicans approach the topic differently.
While the labor market has been improving, Democrats don't want to make midterms about jobs. And Republicans are trying to avoid core Democratic matters.
"You dont want to make education or health care the issue, because most people identify with Democrats on those issues," Patrick McSweeney, former Virginia GOP chairman, said in a phone interview. "The more [Democrats] make the economy and jobs the issue that is the issue we can certainly win."
It's simple. Democrats who focus on the jobs discussion risk the perception that if they're addressing unemployment, then maybe they're not doing a good enough job. Republicans who focus on immigration, health care and education must be content with economic growth, voters might assume.
The truth is, the jobs picture and the overall economy are complex beasts to tackle and to say either is "good" or "bad" completely misses the enormous incongruities different regions of the country are experiencing.
Take Friday's jobs report as an example. While the headline numbers suggest a full-bodied surge for American workers, the details show that wages haven't budged month-over-month and are regressing in year-over-year improvement -- hourly earnings grew 2.1% from March 2013 to March 2014, but only 1.9% from April 2013 to April 2014. On the positive end, the United States added the most jobs on an initial monthly report since 2010 Census hiring, and the Labor Department announced that hiring over the last two months was 36,000 jobs better than it initially calculated.
We have what seems to be some more people getting hired, but the wages can't measure with that; so you still have a sticky situation here in terms of where the economy is going to go, what long-duration [Treasury] bonds are saying and what stocks are saying," Michael Gayed, chief investment strategist at Pension Partners, said in an interview.
Try explaining that to an American employee who drops a child off at school, works more than 9 hours, goes home, makes dinner and repeats.
"The only job number that matters for the average person is the number of jobs they have; whether it's one or none," David DiMartino, a D.C.-based Democratic consultant, said in a phone interview.