CLEVELAND — President Barack Obama celebrated much-needed good economic news Friday as the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since he took office. "We are moving forward again," he boasted. Republican rival Mitt Romney retorted that the president still hasn't done enough to help millions of people who are out of work.
The figures announced by the Labor Department — 114,000 new jobs last month to bring the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent — gave Obama fresh evidence on the heels of his disappointing debate performance to argue that his economic policies are working. Romney countered that the country can't afford four more years of the president's leadership and argued that the rate is low in part because some people have quit looking for work.
"These are tough times in this community," Romney told a rally outside a construction equipment store after meeting with coal miners who have been laid off. "We're going to bring back jobs and bring back America."
Obama responded that Romney wants to roll back policies that are repairing the economic damage.
"Today's news should give us some encouragement," Obama told thousands gathered in the rain for an afternoon rally at Cleveland State University. "It shouldn't be an excuse for the other side to try to talk down the economy just to try to score a few political points."
The unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent in August, matching its level in January 2009 when Obama became president. There is one more monthly unemployment report before Election Day, so Friday's numbers could leave a lasting impact on Americans who are already casting ballots in states that allow early voting.
The candidates campaigned Friday on opposite ends of one of those early voting states, Virginia. Romney, in the state's far western coal country, said he wants to develop coal and other domestic resources to make North America energy independent in eight years. Obama focused on recruiting women at an appearance in the Washington suburbs, where he argued that his health care policy has improved their health care choices.
Obama, seeking to rebound after Romney dominated their first debate Wednesday night, is accusing his rival of being dishonest about how his policies would affect the tax bills of middle-class families and the Medicare benefits of retirees. He told an audience at George Mason University that his rival "got an extreme makeover" in their face-off.