WASHINGTON - President Obama seized upon last week's improved jobs report as "more good news" on the economy, though the true unemployment rate never made the headlines.
Anytime jobs are created it's good news, but a major factor that produced the drop in the official unemployment rate to 8.3 percent was in large part a manifestation of the economy's underlying weakness that the national news media didn't acknowledge or buried in its stories.
Also left unaddressed was the issue of who should get the credit for the job increases. It clearly was not Obama whose stimulus plan failed to make a significant dent in the jobless rate in his first three years in office. But we'll deal with that in a moment.
First and foremost, the real story of Obama's weak jobs performance is about what the Bureau of Labor Statistics' unemployment number leaves out, or at least plays down.
And that's the 2.8 million discouraged American workers who want employment but can't find it and have given up looking. Under the BLS's perverse mathematics, these people are "not counted as in the labor force, even though they wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job in the prior 12 months," the agency said deep down in its report.
Thus, the government does not count them as among the unemployed, even though they are, well, unemployed.
If you add these 2.8 million discouraged workers, who are victims of Obama's failed economic policies, the real unemployment rate is a whopping 9.9 percent instead of the 8.3 percent the administration announced Friday.
Most people do not realize the BLS numbers are the result of a national household survey, i.e. a poll, though it is not the only survey. The Gallup Poll regularly surveys Americans across the country to determine who's working and who isn't, and its numbers put the unemployment rate at a higher 8.7 percent, and the underemployment rate -- workers in temp jobs or part-timers -- at 18.7 percent.
This is the bleak, unarguable reality of the Obama economy and it is one that the Republicans ought to make their number one issue in this year's elections.
Ten percent unemployment is not something to boast about, yet there was Obama at a fire station in Arlington, Va. on Friday, saying "the economy is growing stronger."
The president ought to double check with his people at the Commerce Department who keep track of economic data. Last year, Obama's "stronger" economy grew by a meager 1.7 percent, a pathetic growth rate by any recent standard.
But who really deserves the credit for the job gains we have seen in recent months? Obama is taking credit for the creation of over 200,000 jobs in January, though that's a stretch at best.
What policies can he point to that has led to the modest job growth we've seen thus far? His $800 billion spending stimulus bill in 2009 that pumped money into hundreds of federal and state agencies to create so-called "shovel ready jobs"? Many economists have dismissed that as a failure, producing relatively few permanent jobs.
The 2 percent cut in the Social Security payroll tax that will expire at the end of this year put additional money into American paychecks, but it hasn't directly produced many jobs, either.
Outside of these two initiatives, there have been no real major economic growth plans to speak of. Obama said the unemployment rate would be below 8 percent by now, but that hasn't materialized.
The White House brags that over the past three years he has created millions of jobs. But his record pales into insignificance when compared to previous presidents who battled recessions.
After President Reagan's across-the-board tax rate cuts in 1981, as America fell into a severe two-year recession -- with unemployment climbing to nearly 11 percent -- the economy took off like a rocket. It grew by 4.5 percent in 1983, and by 8 percent plus in some quarters.
Obama is crowing about 243,000 jobs last month, but the Reagan economy created more than one million jobs in September of 1983, and almost 3.5 million jobs for the entire year.
Employment growth under Obama's policies last year: 1.8 million.
"Looking ahead to 2012, Obama could replicate the 243,000 jobs created in January over each of the next 11 months and still not approach Reagan's total for 1984 of 3.9 million," reports economics writer Charles Riley on the CNNMoney web site.
As to who deserves credit for the jobs that are being created thus far, former governor Mitt Romney points to the business community and American workers for doing the heavy lifting while Obama bickered with Congress.
"This president has not helped the process, he's hurt it," Romney said last week. The economy "has taken a lot longer than it should have to come back, in part because of the policies of this administration. For that, the president deserves the blame that he'll receive in this campaign."
The West Wing is praying that the economy will further improve this year to strengthen Obama's weak 46 percent job approval score as measured by the Gallup Poll. As of now, he is tied with Romney in Gallup's general election matchup.
But Obama's feeble growth rates and tepid job creation are not enough to move unemployment levels to a normal range, economists say.
"The economy must add 13 million jobs over the next three years, 361,000 each month, to bring unemployment down to 6 percent," says University of Maryland economist Peter Morici.
By March of the election year "all winning presidents in the modern era" had job approval ratings over 50 percent, Gallup says. Next month's numbers could very well tell us whether Obama will be another one-term president.
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