CHARLOTTE (USA TODAY) - The eagerly awaited employment report released Friday morning wasn't good enough to significantly boost President Obama or bad enough to significantly help Republican Mitt Romney.
Instead, it was one more sign of a slow recovery that gives talking points to both sides, debating how best to create jobs.
"The August jobs report was disappointing, signaling that businesses remain very cautious," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, told USA TODAY. "But the numbers weren't disappointing enough to sway the election. The political optics of the report will also be significantly shaped by the decline in unemployment. Odds are improving that unemployment will be below the 8% rate by Election Day."
Employers added 96,000 jobs in August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, lower than expectations and well below the 141,000 created in July. A survey of economists by Bloomberg News predicted that the economy generated 125,000 jobs last month, and the ADP National Employment Report on Thursday said 201,000 private-sector jobs had been created in August.
Still, the unemployment rate ticked down to 8.1% from 8.3% in July because people dropped out of the job market, and labor force participation fell to its lowest rate in three decades.
"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney said in a written statement quickly issued by his campaign. "For every net new job created, nearly four Americans gave up looking for work entirely. This is more of the same for middle-class families who are suffering through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. After 43 straight months of unemployment above 8%, it is clear that President Obama just hasn't lived up to his promises and his policies haven't worked."
House Speaker John Boehner said the report "underscores President Obama's failed promises to get out economy moving again."
The jobs report came just nine hours after President Obama left the stage at the Democratic National Convention, where he formally accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term. He defended his record on the economy but acknowledged that many Americans continue to feel the sting of hard times. In his speech, he said the word "jobs" 15 times.
"When the house of cards collapsed in the Great Recession, millions of innocent Americans lost their jobs, their homes and their life savings - a tragedy from which we are still fighting to recover," Obama declared, saying he was proposing "a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation."
The report could encourage the Federal Reserve to take more steps to spur growth when it meets next week.
Both presidential campaigns have cited jobs numbers to bolster their side. Democrats note that the number of private-sector jobs has risen for 30 straight months, including August. Republicans counter that the unemployment rate has topped 8% for 43 straight months.
On Friday morning, the Romney campaign released ads attacking Obama's economic policies, individualized for eight swing states. "Here in North Carolina we're not better off under President Obama," the ad airing in the Tarheel State said, focusing on the loss of manufacturing jobs. "His failed economic and trade policies with China have destroyed thousands of jobs. The Romney plan: Stand up to China, reverse Obama job-killing policies; create over 350,000 new jobs for North Carolina."