The die is cast, and it's grim news for the Democrats. There's nothing now that Congress or President Barack Obama can do to before the November midterm elections to jolt the nation's stagnant economy.
Friday's government report — the last major economic news before the midterm elections — showed the nation continued to lose jobs last month, reinforcing the bleak reality that it probably will be years — not months — before employment returns to pre-recession levels below 6 percent.
That tightens the pressure on Democrats ahead of the Nov. 2 elections. And it also casts a dark shadow well into the 2012 election season and beyond.
"We won't see under 6 percent for five years," David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York, said Friday after the Labor Department reported that 95,000 more jobs were lost in September and the unemployment rate held at 9.6 percent. "It's going to be a slow recovery."
Democrats, who now control the White House and both chambers of Congress, are sticking with a positive line: The economy is moving too slowly for anybody's comfort, but Obama and his congressional Democratic allies have laid the groundwork for future prosperity. They are blaming the downturn on the policies of Republican George W. Bush's eight-year presidency.
Republicans, meanwhile, were quick to say Friday's new jobless report only underscored the weakness of Democratic policies of big government and taxes. It represented "the final verdict on the failed policies of this White House and Democratic Congress as voters head to the polls," said GOP party chief Michael Steele.
Unemployment has now topped 9.5 percent for 14 months in a row, the longest stretch since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Congress, meanwhile, has left town until after the midterms, failing to decide what to do about wide-ranging Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire on Jan. 1. Uncertainty over those tax cuts itself is contributing to the lack of hiring as businesses, especially small ones, attempt to figure out what their tax burdens will be next year.
Obama and Democratic leaders want to let the tax cuts expire for wealthier Americans but extend them for the middle class. Republicans and some Democrats want to extend them for everybody, arguing that a weak economy is no time for any tax hikes.
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