Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The third year of Barack Obama's presidency is running into the same troubles he faced in his first two, undermining his prospects for a second term.

No issue looms larger than the economy's continued weakness, despite $1 trillion in stimulus money Obama and his party threw into a black hole of government spending, with little to show for it except unprecedented government debt.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for the GOP nomination who built his reputation in business before entering politics, says he'll focus his campaign on the anemic economy and knows how to get it moving again.

Smart strategy. The Obama economy -- that's what we can call it now -- will be far and away the issue that will determine the outcome of the 2012 election, and that isn't anything to brag about.

The unemployment rate remains high at 9 percent, but that's the average, which doesn't reflect the dismal job situation in many parts of the country.

The rates in major, highly populated states remain in double-digits, and many others have not seen their numbers significantly change in months.

"Seven states recorded measurably higher rates, and 19 states and the District of Columbia had rates that were not appreciably different from the national rate," the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week.

States with unemployment rates at between 9 percent and 9.9 percent include Missouri, Connecticut, Washington, Alabama, Arizona, New Jersey, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.

States suffering double-digit unemployment include Kentucky, 10 percent; Michigan, 10.2 percent; Mississippi, 10.4 percent; Florida, 10.8 percent; Rhode Island, 10.9 percent; California, 11.9 percent; and Nevada, 12.5 percent.

Many Americans think the jobless numbers are much higher than the government's monthly numbers, and the Gallup Poll's tracking surveys suggest that may be the case. Gallup puts unemployment at 9.2 percent, and "underemployment" (when you include workers who are discouraged and no longer looking for work, or those who could find only part-time jobs) at 19.2 percent.

If Democrats around the country are looking for some outrage from their party's leaders about all of this, they won't hear it coming from the Democrats in Congress, who rarely complain about the high jobless rate for fear of being seen as criticizing Obama's economic policy -- even though he no longer has one.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.