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Hiring in the U.S. slowed sharply last month, casting a shadow over President Obama's job security. A report from the Labor Department shows employers added just 69,000 jobs in May, less than half what forecasters were expecting. The unemployment rate also inched up to 8.2 percent.
In a moment, we'll go out into the country to find out how today's news fits with what Americans are feeling at the state and local level. But first, the politics of today's news. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney wasted no time putting the day's bad numbers to good use.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This is the third month in a row we've seen a drop in the number of new jobs, a clear sign the recovery in the labor market is losing steam and a disappointing signal to the millions of Americans who are still looking for work. Visiting a Honeywell plant in Minnesota this afternoon, President Obama said the United States is still fighting its way back from the worst recession in decades.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The economy is growing again, but it's not growing as fast as we want it to grow.
HORSLEY: Forecasters had expected some rebound in hiring after a disappointing April jobs report. Instead, the May employment figures were even worse, and the jobs numbers for the two earlier months were revised downward as well.
OBAMA: And just like at this time last year, our economy is still facing some serious headwinds.
HORSLEY: The sharp drop in hiring is a gale-force headwind for Mr. Obama's re-election campaign. For much of the last year, he's been able to argue that while the economy is not where anyone wants it to be, at least it's moving in the right direction. The unemployment rate fell steadily from 9.1 percent last August to 8.1 in April.
Now, though, the trend appears to be moving in the wrong direction, just as voters begin to solidify their opinions about the economy. Speaking today on CNBC, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney called the weak jobs numbers an indictment of the president's policies.
MITT ROMNEY: The issue is: Is the president in a position to lead America and to get us out of these economic doldrums and put families back to work? I don't think he is. I think he's proven over the last three and a half years he's not up to the task. He's over his head.
HORSLEY: Romney, who made a fortune investing in and later selling companies, says with his business background, he could do a better job of managing the economy. The Obama campaign disputes this, saying there is more to running the country than just maximizing profits for investors.
The Obama campaign also notes that Massachusetts had one of the worst job creation records in the country while Romney was governor there. Political analyst Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report doubts that will make much difference.
NATHAN GONZALES: The White House does really wants to bring Romney into the equation and make this election a fundamental choice between the two candidates. But I think it's still more likely to be a referendum on how people think the president has done during his first term.
HORSLEY: If so, the latest jobs report is certainly not helpful to the president. But economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics says a lot could still happen between now and November.
MARK ZANDI: Just think back a few months ago - literally, a few months ago - we were creating well over 200,000 jobs a month, and there was just a great deal of euphoria about the way the recovery was going. And, you know, that was overstating the case. And today, it's abject pessimism because the economy has now throttled - clearly throttled back and we're getting some really dire numbers, but it overstates the weakness. The reality is somewhere in between the two, and we can't forget that.
HORSLEY: Zandi says one danger is that consumers and businesses overreact to the jobs number, and that in itself could drag the economy down. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.