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Published: Saturday, 10/27/2012

Soft applause

Ohio’s latest unemployment rate of 7 percent is not exactly a slam-dunk for President Obama’s re-election bid. But it’s a passing grade in a crucial swing state for a president who helped stave off one of this nation’s greatest economic collapses.

When Mr. Obama took office in 2009, the economic chaos left by George W. Bush’s administration was still unfolding. Mitt Romney wants voters to believe Ohio’s turnaround could have been more dramatic. To some degree, he’s right.

But while Ohio’s 406,000 unemployed people in September were still too many, that’s 91,000 people less than a year ago. Ohio’s unemployment rate now matches its lowest level in four years.

That’s a solid — if unspectacular — improvement over the state’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate when Mr. Obama took office and America was losing 800,000 jobs a month. Ohio’s unemployment rate continues to trail the national rate, now 7.8 percent.

Party lines are split over how much relative credit Mr. Obama, a Democrat, and Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, deserve for that success. But Ohio’s recovery likely would have been stuck in neutral if it hadn’t been for Mr. Obama’s gutsy bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, a move that was politically unpopular in other parts of the country. It saved or sustained not only domestic auto manufacturers but also the U.S. automotive supply chain.

That was huge for Ohio, the nation’s largest producer of automotive parts. One can only imagine how much worse the unemployment rate in Ohio and elsewhere would have been if no bailout had occurred, something Mr. Romney advocated.

Mr. Romney made an unconvincing argument during Monday night’s debate that the same or a better result would have happened if struggling auto companies had been forced to reorganize without the bailout. That is, at best, wishful thinking and, at worst, a desperate appeal for votes.

The trade-off has not been ideal. Newly created manufacturing jobs don’t pay as well or have as many benefits.

There are no robust cheers. But perhaps a 7 percent unemployment rate merits soft applause. Things could have been a whole lot worse.

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