May 7th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #838 'The eight percent solution'

Reporter's Note: President Obama suggested many months ago that his stimulus plans for the economy would help tame unemployment. Unemployment, however, seems a little wilder than expected, as I note in today’s letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

Eight percent. I can’t put it any more plainly. If you can’t get unemployment under eight percent, I imagine you are going to have one really difficult re-election campaign. And with the latest report at nine percent, it looks like you have some work to do.

I know that there are many different factors to consider. Unemployment is not everything. (Although, to be fair, when you are unemployed it certainly feels like everything.) Housing prices. National security. International trade. Debt. Inflation. The price of filling your tank at the gas station. All of those things could also play a big role in your re-election plans, but I still tend to think that unemployment is the biggest of those numbers.

You and others can explain away the percentages - offering explanations like, the percentage is up because more people are looking for work, meaning they are more optimistic that they’ll find it, and yadda yadda yadda. But I’m not sure that’s going to play in Peoria. Most voters will stick with a simple and reasonable formula: Higher unemployment is bad, lower unemployment is good.

And eight percent, although it is just a number, is a number that has a certain magic to it. Somehow I think people will just believe the economy is improving if you can push the rate below eight percent, and they will not be convinced if it stays above that number. And nine percent? Forget about it. Too many people hear that number and they think, “One in ten Americans are jobless” and they don’t like it.

So write it on a post-it note and stick it on your desk. Eight percent. If you can’t beat that number, I suspect you may have a hard time beating anyone.

Call if you get a moment. I’m home for most of the weekend.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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