New jobs report fodder for campaigns
Bush, Kerry camps offer different interpretations
Shadow on the American economy: The Labor Department says the U.S. added a fraction of the jobs expected in July.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The latest jobs report, showing far less growth for July than expected, emerged as a flash point on the campaign trail Friday with President Bush's stewardship of the economy long a target of criticism by Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry.
"We can do better," Kerry declared at a rally in Smithfield, Missouri. "We can put people to work."
Bush had a different view. "I say we have a strong economy, and it's getting stronger," he told supporters in Stratham, New Hampshire.
Even before the report from the Labor Department was released, Kerry was blasting Bush for his economic policies, saying U.S. jobs have been lost under the GOP administration -- with many going overseas, wage growth was sluggish and millions of employed Americans lack health insurance.
After the report was released, Kerry fired again.
"The president keeps saying we've turned the corner," Kerry said in a written statement. "But unfortunately, today's job numbers further demonstrate that our economy may be taking a U-turn instead. Saying we've turned the corner doesn't make it so. America will not turn the corner to better days until we have a new president who can see our problems and take action to fix them."
The Labor Department reported businesses added 32,000 jobs in July, a fraction of the more than 200,000 that many economists expected, and the weakest showing so far this year. (CNN/Money: A hiring shock)
The unemployment rate -- based on a separate survey -- dipped slightly to 5.5 percent in July from 5.6 percent in June.
The Bush administration said the July jobs report must be viewed in the broader context of an economy on the mend. And they pointed to a gain of 10,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in July.
"We've seen nine months of growth," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao told CNNfn on Friday.
"Not consecutive, but nine months in employment growth in the manufacturing sector in the last 12 months."
Still, Greg Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the administration wants to see stronger jobs growth.
"We are not satisfied with the level of job creation we saw today," he said.
"The economy is creating jobs. It is moving forward but not at a rapid enough pace."
In New Hampshire, Bush declared: "I'm not going to be satisfied until everybody who wants to work can find a job."
In an earlier appearance before a conference of minority journalists that Kerry had addressed the day before, Bush didn't deviate much from his campaign stump speech, citing his efforts to strengthen an economy that he described as ailing when he took office and later battered by terrorist attacks.
The tax cuts he pushed and Congress passed, Bush insisted, have jump-started the economy.
Chao also emphasized that a separate survey of households -- which unemployment figures are based on -- showed 629,000 more people at work than in June. The jobs report is based on a separate survey of employers.
"I think there has been a debate which survey should be focused on more," she said. "Both surveys are trending positive and show jobs growth."
But Kerry economic advisers pointed out that the administration had emphasized the employer survey in March when it showed strong job growth while the household survey indicated a decline in employment.
They said that even with the jobs growth now being reported, the administration will see a net decline in employment during its tenure.
"This year may be President Bush's best year; it would have been President Clinton's worst year," Kerry economic adviser Aida Alvarez told CNNfn.
The Democratic National Committee released details Friday about a new television ad it was launching, tying U.S. plant closures and "outsourcing" of jobs to Bush's tax policies.