Q: Couldn't the economic outlook brighten before Election Day?
A: It might. Some economists think the weakness could be temporary, reflecting the fallout from an unusually warm winter and technical issues that can sway the government's numbers. Consumer spending and exports remain solid, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, and the outlook may bounce back to last winter's optimism.
Or the weak report could mark the beginning of a stall in the already sluggish recovery. Discouraging numbers can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just look at the way they drove the stock market down 275 points Friday, in the worst trading day of the year. That sort of thing rattles the business leaders who make hiring decisions.
Many of them are feeling uneasy about world events.
"Europe is the key swing factor," Zandi said.
If Europe addresses its financial troubles, and keeps Greece in the eurozone, the financial markets are likely to settle, he said, and boost U.S. employers' confidence. But if Europe slowly worsens, it will be a drag on the U.S. economy.
By Nov. 6, when a president is picked, the employment picture may look rosier — or glum.
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