While the job creation rate for this year and even the last two is positive, the average of the last four years is still negative.
During the 60s, no party had to face re-election with a negative four year moving average. During the 70s, no party had to face re-election with a negative four year moving average. Same in the 80s. And 90s. As bad as a recession would get, they were never so severe or prolonged as to bring the four year moving average into negative territory in any year, much less an election year. Not until this century.
(Click on the chart below to enlarge.)
In the graph above, the red bars trace the 4 year moving average. The green bars track annual job creation (or loss). Note that even though the green bars dip below the line, the red bars never do. Well, never did until after we entered this new millennium.
The job losses in 2008 and 2009 were so severe and the job creation in the year before and years after so paltry, that we're now in our fourth year of a negative four year moving average. This moving average defines the unemployment rate more than what happens in the current year. George W. Bush faced re-election with a negative four year moving average but 2004 - the election year - was actually fairly strong, stronger than 2012 is shaping up to be. You see that the red bar dips below the line only slightly in 2003 and 2004. And George wasn't running on his economic record: he was the commander in chief with two wars.
By contrast, the 4 year moving average for Obama has been negative since he took office. And by quite a bit. In spite of the fact that job creation has been positive in three of his four years, public perception (and the reality of chronic of unemployment) is colored by that disastrous first year of his administration and the last of Bush's. The economy under Obama has yet to create more jobs than it lost in 2009.
It is no wonder that Obama seemed subdued Thursday night. Now, he has to be hoping that by election day the unemployment rate will fall below 8% for the first time since the month he was sworn in, and that the economy will have finally created more jobs than it has lost during his term. No other president has had to settle for such poor job performance in the category of job creation.
In any case, next year the 4-year moving average will finally be positive again. Whoever is president will finally be out from under the shadow of the Great Recession of 2008. Obama has to hope that it is him. It would have to be the worst kind of frustration to have finally repaired the car just in time to watch someone else drive off in it.