The Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6% in November, the lowest since March 2009 and a sharp improvement from 9.0% in October.
That part of the report is great news for the White House. The unemployment rate plays an important role in campaign rhetoric, and the closer the rate drops to 7.8% -- that was the rate when Obama took office -- the better it is for the White House.
And even that might not be enough to save the president's job. Just consider this stat: No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won re-election with an unemployment rate over 7.2%.
But it would be a mistake to put too much emphasis on the unemployment rate. A more useful predictor of electoral success is the actual number of jobs created, and beyond that, how Americans feel about he economy.
And there, the news isn't so good for the White House.
The labor market still has a long way to go to recover from the financial crisis. Less than a third of all the 8.8 million jobs shed have since been recovered. A whopping 13.3 million people remain unemployed and 43% of those have been out of work for more than six months.
And there are some important caveats to note when looking at Friday's report.
For example, about half of the rate decrease is attributable to discouraged workers giving up entirely on their job search -- not new job creation.
And employers added only 120,000 jobs in October -- well off the number that economists say is needed just to keep pace with population growth.
According to a CNN/ORC International poll released last week, only 15% say economic conditions are good, while six out of seven say conditions are poor, with a majority saying they are "very poor."
The truth: Nonfarm payroll employment added 140,000 private sector jobs last month. This means we've added 1.9 million private sector jobs over the past year — an average of 157,000 a month.
"The policies this administration has pursued are adding jobs back into the economy, and our recovery is picking up steam.
-from Dept. of Labor site.
The bottom line: Job growth is still relatively anemic, the housing market is a mess and the festering European debt crisis threatens to drag down economic growth worldwide.