Last week's U.S. unemployment report, in a bit of deja vu, put the Obama administration's jobs record back to square one -- make that Day 1 of the president's tenure.
When President Barack Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent -- the same percentage the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.
Does that mean administration policies have been a success? Conservatives offered a loud "No," with former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch accusing the Labor Department of manipulating the statistics -- something government officials say is impossible.
A closer look at the statistics indicates although the headline number is positive and a boost to the Obama re-election campaign, job creation remains anemic and much of the reduction in the number of people searching for work can be attributed to those so discouraged they've stopped the job search, settled for part-time work or started their own home-based businesses.
The number of those in the labor force is estimated at 155.1 million, 3 million to 4 million fewer than in 2009.
"The nearly entire reduction in unemployment from its 10 percent peak in October 2009 has been accomplished through a significant drop in the percentage of adults participating in the labor force -- either working or looking for work," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said.
"The most effective jobs program appears to be to convince working-age adults they don't need a job."
The Labor Department said 114,000 new jobs were added to the economy, and also revised upward the figures for August and July. Hiring is expected to increase in the fourth quarter as retailers beef up their rosters for the holiday shopping season, something that has happened in the last couple of years as well only to fall back come spring.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney said in reaction to Friday's report. "We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July, and we've lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office. If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11 percent. ...
"[W]hen I'm President of the United States, that unemployment rate is going to come down, not because people are giving up and dropping out of the workforce, but because we are creating more jobs. I will create jobs and get America working again."
Obama put a different spin on the news: "I believe that as a nation, we are moving forward again. We're moving forward. Now, after losing about 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, our businesses have now added 5.2 million new jobs over the past 2 1/2 years. This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office. More Americans entered the workforce. More people are getting jobs."
During their Wednesday night debate, both candidates agreed the No. 1 issue facing the economy is jobs but neither laid out any specifics on creating them.
Romney reiterated his oft-repeated pledge to create 12 million new jobs, saying it would happen if we'd just lower tax rates and lift some government regulations.
Obama has proposed several government programs to generate jobs through infrastructure improvements but has been stymied by Republicans in Congress who refuse to allow any White House-proposed legislation through.
"We could be moving even faster if Republicans would drop their knee-jerk obstruction and work with Democrats," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement.
In a Twitter posting, Welch alleged the administration is cooking the books.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers," Welch tweeted. "These Chicago guys will do anything ... can't debate so change numbers."
Keith Hall, who headed the BLS from 2008 to 2012, said that's impossible.
"There's nothing wrong with the numbers," Hall told The Wall Street Journal, adding the figures may contain sampling errors. "The only issue is the interpretation of the numbers. The numbers are what they are."