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The employment picture in the past few months has started looking better —but it's not improving as quickly as many might hope. In March, there was finally some good news, as the American economy created jobs—162,000 of them—in a big way for the first time since 2007. Unfortunately, the national unemployment rate didn't change, and although the job report for May showed more than 400,000 news jobs added, most were temporary census jobs. Unemployment continues to hover just shy of 10 percent, and according to many experts and government estimates, it probably won't drop much by the end of the year.
Over the past year, Republicans had been optimistic that the slow rebound of the economy would do them well in November. That may hold true. But the narrative is in flux. After the economy grew three quarters in a row at the start of the year, many economists declared the recession over. And expectations are that it will keep growing, with increases in home sales and consumer spending.
But slow growth may be just as problematic for Democrats as no growth. According to an April Gallup poll, nearly 6 in 10 Americans say the economy is their top concern. And more than 4 in 10 say they are worried about unemployment. For Democrats, their success at the polls in November may be partly shaped by the extent to which positive economic trends take hold. But the public's perception of the economy, however strong the actual fundamentals may be, also matters. As long as unemployment stays high, the GOP will have a major talking point. Helping its case is that most Americans—more than 60 percent, polls this spring showed—disapprove of how President Obama has handled the economy. For Democrats, the good news is that Americans, so far, are still more likely to blame George W. Bush for the country's economic woes than Obama. Asked who they faulted, 42 percent of voters said they blamed Bush "a great deal"; 26 percent said the same of Obama.
That said, midterm elections are often as much, if not more, about local issues as national ones, so it might also be instructive to look at how the economic recovery is unfolding around the country. Even as the United States added those 162,000 jobs in March, 17 states still saw job losses, including Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is fighting to hang on to his seat.