The economy makes President Bush's job harder as he tries to keep the confidence of the people.
Poverty is up and payrolls are down, especially in manufacturing areas that are major presidential battlegrounds. In politics, the only numbers that count are on Election Day, but the latest economic figures cannot help President Bush's re-election effort.
``I'd say President Bush ought to be running scared,' said Jeffrey Rosenweig, an Emory University finance professor and economic forecaster. ``People seem to be hurting now more than they have in a generation.'It has been obvious for months that the economy would be the central election issue. Unclear, however, was whether it would show at least modest steam as summer turned to fall, giving Bush evidence for his case that things are getting better.
Some data and many forecasts suggest better days ahead, but the bulk of the numbers show an economy stuck in a rut and taking a painful toll on many Americans.
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For Bush, that spells double trouble.
The bad economic news alone is a major obstacle to his re-election. And it fits perfectly Democrat Bill Clinton's claim that 12 years of Reagan-Bush economics lifted the rich while harming the ``forgotten middle class.'
And, for Bush, it gets worse.
The unemployment rate went up in four November battlegrounds: California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
It did improve in Texas, New Jersey, Illinois and Michigan. But in both Michigan and New Jersey unemployment was still 9 percent or higher. And Illinois, where the rate dropped from 8.4 percent to 6.5 percent, is considered Clinton's strongest industrial state.
As he attacks Bush's economic record, Clinton has the benefit of good recent news in his state: manufacturing jobs in Arkansas were up 11.2 percent in the 1980s while decreasing nationally, and the state ranked fifth in wage and salary growth last year.
But Arkansas wages are still well below the national average and its poverty rate, while improving, is higher than the national average, giving Bush ammunition to fire back.
Even economists who support Bush's policies as medicine the economy needs say there's no time between now and November for any significant improvements in the numbers.
``I don't think there are a lot of happy campers out there but virtually every forecaster, Republican or Democrat, predicts a much stronger 1993,' said economic adviser Murray Weidenbaum.
____________________________________________________________________________\ A WEEK OF BAD NEWS
Friday's unemployment report showed a slight drop, from July's 7.7 percent to 7.6 percent in August. But that was due to a summer jobs program. Overall, payrolls declined by 83,000 jobs, with modest growth in some sectors helping offset a 71,000-job decline in retail and a 97,000-job decrease in manufacturing, the steepest in 18 months.
Factory orders fell by 1.1 percent in July, giving manufacturers little reason to think about hiring new workers.
The ranks of the poor swelled to a 27-year high, with the recession pushing 2.1 million more Americans into poverty.
Median household incomes fell 3.5 percent in 1991. The drop between 1989 and 1991 - the data for Bush's presidency - was the most severe decline since the 1973 recession.