There must be plenty of smiles at the White House Friday morning. The economy created 200,000 jobs in December, according to the Labor Department. That brought the unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent, the lowest in nearly three years.
It is still above the 7.8 percent rate in January 2009, when Barack Obama moved into his new digs. And, predictably, the men who would like to oust him from his residence were quick to point out that shortly after Obama took over, it went up to 8 percent and has not come back down below that mark. House Speaker John Boehner also chimed in with the observation that "Today marks the 35th month of unemployment above eight percent, and too many Americans continue to struggle to find their next job."
An oft-cited statistic points out that no president has been re-elected with the unemployment rate higher than 7.2 percent. So, Obama has a ways to go yet.
But it is also true that it is the direction of the rate --not the rate per se -- that affects voters the most. So the key metric to watch in coming months is whether December's boffo jobs performance is repeated.
Recent economic data have been fairly positive, Europe has avoided a complete financial meltdown for now, and China seems to be letting its economy slow without too much disruption. Iran's a wild card, of course, with the price of oil (and the gasoline that is derived from it) heading in the wrong direction.
But it's a safe bet that the chief occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will savor his belated Christmas present.