The campaigns of Mitt Romney and President Obama are ready to pounce on a new jobs report Friday that is expected to show modest growth in hiring for May.
Analysts expect the Bureau of Labor Statistics to report that employers added about 165,000 workers last month. That figure would be an increase over March and April, but well below the level of hiring needed to substantially reduce the unemployment rate, which stands at 8.1 percent.
Romney and Obama have seized on the monthly jobs data in the battle over economy, which will likely be the dominant issue when voters head to the polls in November.
Obama counters that the country has added jobs every month since October of 2010, gaining more than 4 million during his presidency.
Both candidates are trying to convince voters they have answers for the nation’s employment woes — and the record to prove it.
Obama’s campaign is making the case that Romney failed to create jobs while he was governor of Massachusetts. Campaign adviser David Axelrod put out a memo Wednesday that said the state fell from 36th to 47th in job creation while Romney was in office, while unemployment rose above the national average.
"Mitt Romney applied the economic philosophy he learned in the private sector to disastrous results as governor of Massachusetts," Axelrod said in the memo.
"Massachusetts couldn’t afford Romney Economics, and neither can the American economy."
The Romney campaign shot back that his policies helped lower the state’s unemployment rate from 5.4 to 4.7 percent. Independent analysts estimate Massachusetts gained between 25,000 and 40,000 jobs while Romney was governor.
"Mitt Romney created more jobs in the state of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
"If President Obama had even half the job-creation record of Mitt Romney, then he would be running on it.”
Obama’s reelection chances had been boosted earlier this year by strong private-sector job gains averaging more than 200,000 a month, but the momentum slowed in April, when the economy added only 115,000 jobs.
No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been reelected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent, and economists are split on whether job growth will be strong enough to cut the rate below that level by Election Day.
One prominent economist expects the unemployment rate to be firmly below 8 percent come Election Day.
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said a combination of job gains and the winding-down of the emergency unemployment insurance program will push unemployment below that rate. He predicted Friday’s jobs report would show the unemployment rate declined to 8 percent in April, mostly due to expiring federal jobless benefits.
"Many older workers exhausting their benefits will step out of the workforce and younger workers will take jobs they wouldn’t have if they were still receiving the benefits," Zandi wrote in an email.
Job growth is expected to pick up this summer, with between 175,000 and 200,000 new jobs added per month as the fall election push begins.