Economic Outlook: It's a foot race

ANTHONY HALL, United Press International

Now, it's a foot race.

After the final debate, there is certainly time to spin a few stories to keep the presidential candidates in the headlines. No one is going on vacation quite yet.


On the other hand, there's that moment in every game of backgammon when the players get to the point where all the opponent's chips are behind them and there is no defense needed anymore. Strategy is over, as the game turns into a foot race to the finish line.

In an election, that means the time to invent a new policy is shrinking every day. It's just time to pour money into advertising.

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In fact, in the final debate, at President Obama's mention of too many television ads even Republican challenger Mitt Romney laughed.

In fact, as likely as not, only Mitt Romney laughed. Even with his padded budget, that expense line is pretty painful for a presidential candidate and the two people who knew that best were both on the same stage. So, it was an inside joke.

Still, conjuring up what turns out to be an unholy image: It's Lance Armstrong time. There are no more debates. It's just pure muscle from here on out.

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In terms of major reports that have influence, the Labor Department releases an employment situation report on the first Friday over every month, which allows for one more release -- on Nov. 2 -- for the unemployment rate, which dropped to a surprising 7.8 percent in the October report, which describes the rate in September.

Of course, a dropping rate favors President Barack Obama, but the steadily dropping rate has not turned out to be a slam dunk for the current administration.

It has been too easy for Romney to simply crow about 20 million Americans out of work and that number has been consistent of late.

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The embarrassing truth is that far more people are dropping out of the workforce each month than are finding jobs, which is not the way anyone wants an unemployment rate to drop.

As Romney said, there are more people receiving food stamps now than when Obama took office. That takes a lot of the luster off of a dropping unemployment rate.

Give Romney two points there.

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The public should be wary, however, of economic data that the media and others try to shoehorn into a suggestive time line, like the RealtyTrac housing market report that said 65 percent of 919 housing markets studied were worse off now than they were four years ago.


Studying data from 919 housing markets -- impressive. A five-point survey that included home prices, unemployment rates, foreclosure inventory, the number of foreclosures initiated by banks and the percentage of local sales that involved distressed properties -- also impressive.

But magically assigning the study the time line of 2008 to 2012 -- preposterous. Obama did not take office with a housing market that was static, stable, steady, sure-footed or even on its feet and his first day in office was hardly the day he snapped his fingers and created a national housing policy from scratch.

Obama keeps harping on the point that he walked into office only to find the country in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and that eventually sounds pretty old. But it happens to be true.

Mitt Romney would prefer to spin the story as if everything was going swell until Obama strode into town and now look at the mess we're in.

There just isn't too much "Canadian Bacon" out there -- the 1995 comedy starring John Candy and Alan Alda in which the president invents a war with Canada, so he can have a clear-cut, time-packaged victory to brag about before an election.


Take the foreclosure crisis, for example. Sixty-five percent of communities on the five-point scale are worse off than they were four years ago -- that looks bad. Most likely 95 percent are worse off than they were eight years ago -- and that looks horrible.

An escalating housing crisis on Obama's watch, just doesn't tell the whole story. It's just too easy to slip that by voters, who seemingly want that prepackaged data to fit their understanding of how the economy works.

In international markets Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan was flat, rising 0.04 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China fell 0.86 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 0.68 percent, while the Sensex in India dropped 0.44 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia gained 0.05 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain shed 1.24 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany lost 1.69 percent. The CAC 40 in France gave up 1.81 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 slipped 1.37 percent.

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