Sunday, March 28, 2004

Dude, Where's My Job?

The war on terror (or lack thereof) and the situation in Iraq seem to be dominating the news these days. No surprises there. Some have been critical of the Democratic Party's largely sidelines stance over the past week. Again, no surprises there, at least for me. The Rovians have been on the defensive, notably without any direct involvement of Terry McAullife's attack dogs. This is a good thing. When the GOP has to spend seven days of an election cycle playing nothing but defense to shore up the base, the Democrats can save up sparse ammunition (translation: money) for more important fights at a more opportune time.

That time might come at the end of this coming week. The government's March payrolls report, due Friday, is likely to be the week's main event. And jobs are where the Bush Administration is most vulnerable:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Show us the jobs. That's what Wall Street will be hoping for in the week ahead when the closely watched monthly jobs report and a fresh batch of economic data are set for release.

Investors will be searching for signs that the U.S. economic recovery remains on track -- and if they get some positive evidence, that could persuade them to buy stocks. If not -- or if the economic reports send mixed signals -- then stocks are likely to stay in a holding pattern or decline slightly....

Speculation that employment growth is not strong enough to support consumer spending -- a force that powers two-thirds of U.S. economic growth -- has been one of the main issues nagging stock investors in recent months, and it will put Friday's report in the spotlight.

Economists polled by Reuters predicted 103,000 new jobs were added to U.S. payrolls in March, versus February's rise of only 21,000. They expect the unemployment rate will remain steady at 5.6 percent.

An ongoing weekend CNN poll asks, Which issue will most impact your vote for president? By a wide majority (65% "the economy", 35% "national security"), the vote is for jobs. Now, this is a decidedly unscientific poll, and I highly suspect the results would be flipped 180 degrees if the same poll were run on the Fox News website.

But anecdotal stories from my own personal portfolio lead me to believe that the economy is clearly the number one issue in the minds of voters (at least right now). Here's one. I was in a local store this morning picking up the Sunday paper and a half gallon of milk. As I was checking out, the register clerk starts bitching about jobs going overseas and "that's why I'm stuck behind a register." Note that I didn't provoke the conversation, she just hit me with it out of the blue.

Senator Kerry, you have an issue. Ride it.

I've opined here before that there's a 50/50 split on the phantom "war on terror", and there's just not going to be big movement on that issue. The believers will continue to believe. The non-believers will continue to whine about the believers.

Jobs and the economy? That's another issue all together. Americans have historically voted with their wallets. With energy prices reaching historic levels, the sure-to-result blowback on other prices from that, and the perception that the job market continues to leave people behind or thoroughly underemployed, we Democrats have an issue that will stick. The McAullife machine should be banging on that drum loud and hard from now until November 2nd.