Economic daylight


The signals of America's economic health remain mixed. But there is a stronger, if incremental, case that a sustained recovery is under way, in Ohio and across the nation. That should help President Obama's re-election chances.

The nation's unemployment rate in September was 7.8 percent — down from 8.1 percent in August, and below 8 percent for the first time since Mr. Obama took office in January, 2009, when America was losing 800,000 jobs a month.

Mr. Obama said American businesses have created 5.2 million jobs over the past 2½ years, including 114,000 in September. Mitt Romney's campaign predictably said the improvement in employment was inadequate.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch — who knows something about killing jobs — attacked the credibility of the jobless numbers. Even Tony Fratto, a deputy press secretary to former Republican President George W. Bush, called the conspiracy theory absurd.

The U.S. auto industry continues to improve, which is especially good news for Ohio and Michigan. Cars and light trucks are selling at an annualized rate of 14.9 million vehicles, helping to stimulate the economic turnaround.

An economist at Moody's Analytics said recovery wouldn't be as strong if it weren't for the uptick in the automotive sector. That's another sign that Mr. Obama's bailouts of Chrysler and General Motors, which Mr. Romney opposed, have worked.

Sluggish home sales in the Toledo market offer less cause for optimism. Nationally, home prices rose by 4.6 percent from August, 2011, to August, 2012, — the largest annual jump since 2006 and the sixth consecutive month this year of upward movement. Yet home prices declined by 3.7 percent in the Toledo market during the same period.

The real estate data provider CoreLogic reports that Michigan ranked in the upper third of states, with a 5.3-percent annual increase in home prices. But Ohio ranked near the bottom, with just a 0.3-percent statewide increase.

Home prices affect property values, which in turn help determine disposable income for homeowners and the amount of tax revenue governments collect for public services. The numbers offer a reminder that while metropolitan Toledo's economy continues to get better, the recovery is not complete.

Still, there is reason for guarded optimism about the local and national economy. The indicators can be confusing, but they suggest the economy is moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction.