The last unemployment figures before the November election are out, and the numbers have stubbornly refused to cooperate with the political needs of the two presidential campaigns.
President Bush, obviously, would like to see better figures to demonstrate that his economic program is indeed working, while a more dismal showing would accord with challenger John Kerry's charge that Bush is a poor steward of the economy.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.4 percent; OK but not great.
Job creation in September was the soft spot in the numbers, with 96,000 new jobs, below expectations and not enough to keep up with the demand for work. The good news for Bush is that as the Labor Department goes back over earlier job-creation figures, it is revising them upwards. The bad news for Bush is that the manufacturing sector, whose health is a key issue in most of the battleground states, lost 18,000 jobs after months of modest increases.
The early spin was that the damage wreaked on the economy by four hurricanes in two months held down job growth, but the Labor Department said it wasn't enough to "materially" affect the national outlook.
The sitting president gets the credit or the blame for the broad economic forces, like employment, that are largely outside his direct control, but that doesn't stop the candidates from talking about it that way.
Voters can take comfort in the fact that both candidates say the economy will be much improved if they are elected.