Obama, Romney brace for April jobs report; slow growth expected

The White House and Mitt Romney’s campaign are bracing for a new jobs report Friday that will set the tone for this fall’s general-election battle.

The report for April is expected to be tepid, with most analysts forecasting job gains of 120,00 to 170,000 — not enough to significantly lower the unemployment rate.

The monthly jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be among the most highly watched data between now and November, when voters go to the polls for what is expected to be a tight election battle between Romney and Obama.

Romney’s main argument against the president is that he has prolonged a recession with tax and regulatory policies that have slowed growth and private-sector hiring while bloating government deficits.

Obama, who will officially launch his reelection campaign Saturday with rallies in the swing states of Ohio and Virginia, argues his administration has helped the nation come through the worst recession since the Great Depression. His campaign also wants to convince voters that Romney would return the country to policies that triggered the recession.

Obama has been boosted politically in recent months by strong private-sector job gains averaging more than 200,000 a month, but the pace of growth slowed in March, when the economy added only 120,000 jobs.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, expects unemployment to be near 8 percent on Election Day, down just a bit from the 8.2 percent rate tallied in March.

For April, he expects gains of 140,000 in April, with a 150,000 gain in the private sector offset by 10,000 in public-sector job losses.

He says job growth earlier this year was boosted in part by warm winter weather.

“The job market and economy are on increasingly solid ground," he said. “The economic data, including the jobs numbers, will look soft through May, but this is due to temporary mostly weather-related factors.”

Economist Aparna Mathur of the American Enterprise Institute expects between 120,000 and 140,000 jobs were added last month. 

“The volatility in the labor market over the previous few months suggests that the economy is still not gaining enough steam to jumpstart a recovery,” Mathur said. 

“Given the disappointing March numbers, it is unlikely that this month's report will show a huge improvement,” he said. 

Zandi said that while there are threats to the near-term outlook, including Iran and oil, Europe's financial issues and the U.S. foreclosure crisis, “these threats seem meaningfully less threatening than six months or a year ago.”

He said underlying job growth this year is between 175,000 and 200,000 new jobs per month.

“This isn’t boom times, but is consistent with enough job growth to slowly reduce unemployment,” he said.

While the national unemployment rate is important to Obama and Romney in their presidential campaigns, jobless rates in specific swing states might be of more importance.

Here, Zandi argues Obama could get a boost, because unemployment rates are falling below the national average in a number of key states.

By Election Day, he expects unemployment to be close to 5 percent in Virginia and Iowa and near 7 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Zandi expects the jobless rate in Colorado to be below 8 percent, and for it to be less than 9 percent in Florida.

Unemployment peaked at almost 11 percent in Ohio and well over 11 percent in Florida.

Since September, the economy has added more than 1.3 million jobs as hiring accelerated in December. 

Economists in an AP survey released Thursday expect job growth to average 177,000 a month from April through June and 189,000 for the rest of the year.

That would be stronger than a year ago, when job growth averaged 158,000 a month.

Still, nearly 13 million people remain unemployed, and the pace of growth expected will do little to diminish that number.