Why the Jobs Report Upends This Fall's Election

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In 2010, the idea that this year's Democrats would tout low unemployment and Obamacare's success in a midterm election would have made Republicans laugh. This year, it's likelier to make them shake with rage.

But it's true. And the math is first-grade simple: Six plus eight = '14.

Friday's jobs report is the clearest sign yet that unemployment will dip below 6% in time for the election, just as it defied forecasts and dipped below 8% in September 2012 in time to finish off Mitt Romney.

That's the six.

The intersection of political math and economic math gets very intriguing as the economy picks up. April's jobs report said employers have added 238,000 workers monthly since February -- even with frozen-tundra weather, including 288,000 in April. Let's say employers add 225,000 jobs a month for the next four months -- a modest goal, given that economists expect growth to accelerate.

That's 1.1 million additional jobs by August -- meaning, the jobs report in early September -- and with a stable work force, that shaves 0.7 percentage point off the unemployment rate.

Think Democrats would like to run on a 5.6% unemployment rate, down from 10% in fall 2009? Think they'd gladly take 5.8%? That gives them two months to publicize the drop before the election, with some wiggle room in case it takes until the Oct. 3 jobs report to happen.

No boom in workforce participation will delay the drop in unemployment -- despite GOP protests. Federal Reserve officials send out mixed signals about participation, partly because the idea that millions of ex-workers will soon resume looking for work, boosting unemployment, is a handy talking point for keeping interest rates ultra-low until wages pick up.

Republicans cite the lower proportion of adults looking for work to claim the unemployment drop is illusory. But April's workforce participation rate, 62.8% of adults, is exactly where it was in December.

The U.S. workforce of 155.4 million has grown by only about 60,000 in the past year, as baby boomer retirements are offset by population growth and modestly rising confidence. The number of people out of the labor force who say they want jobs is 240,000 smaller than this time last year, the Labor Department says. For Republicans, the cavalry ain't coming.

Since sub-6% unemployment before the election is basically baked in the cake, let's talk health care.

The latest numbers show 8 million enrollments in Obamacare health plans (that's the eight), not counting six to seven million new Medicaid recipients. Rand Corp. estimates 9.3 million people are newly insured under the Affordable Care Act -- assuming most who bought coverage on exchanges were already insured. Since 83% of exchange enrollees qualified for premium subsidies, Rand's estimates look conservative.

I'm not a political reporter, and can't expound on cultural issues in Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's re-election campaign in Louisiana, Kay Hagan's effort in North Carolina or similar races where Republicans need a nearly clean sweep to pick up six seats to win back the Senate. Neither do I know much about turnout mechanics political reporters believe favor the GOP.

But an economics reporter who knows that Louisiana has 4.5% unemployment, that North Carolina's 6.6% March rate is down from 8.4% last March (state-by-state April numbers aren't out yet) and that in Kentucky, where GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in a surprisingly tight race, 10% of the state's population bought Obamacare plans or signed up for Medicaid.

And we know that polls, which at RealClearPolitics show a generic House vote of 42% for each party, follow reality with a lag. That's why Yale economist Ray Fair's model -- which uses economic data and forecasts to predict elections -- says Democrats will win 52% of the two-party House vote this year.

If I were a political consultant -- in either party -- I'd memorize the idea that six plus eight holds the key to 2014. One side needs to exploit it. The other side needs to plan defenses against it, lest it be left as helpless as Romney was when September 2012's jobs report hit.

Because, like them or not, six and eight will be this fall's facts on the ground.


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Tim Mullaney was national economics correspondent for USA Today from 2011 to 2014. He writes on the economy, health care and technology. Follow him on Twitter @timmullaney or contact him at tim.mullaney@outlook.com.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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