Economic green shoots for Obama?

US President Barack Obama gives a speech on jobs and the economy in Cleveland, Ohio 4 January 2012 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Unemployment is at its lowest level since February 2009, a month after President Obama took office

Today's economic figures are the best news that US President Barack Obama has had for a while.

There is still a grave danger that the recovery in the US could be blown off course by ill winds from Europe.

But after a year when the American economy seemed stalled, stuck in the doldrums, it finally seems to be moving in the right direction.

Bloomberg suggests it may even be strong enough to weather bad news from across the Atlantic. They also argue that there is more good news behind today's figures: that steel production and car sales are up, both drivers and indicators of recovery.

Nevertheless 2012 is not going to be an election year when voters are bathed in the warm glow of a feel-good factor.

Any recovery will be too slow and ragged for many people to feel any better off. President Obama will still be fighting to keep his job when many voters have lost theirs and are still hurting.

So why is it such good news?

A little less obvious

The state of the economy is centre stage in this election. That is unavoidable but all the Republican candidates have seized on this gleefully.

At the heart of all their campaigns is the claim President Obama's policies are to blame for America's economic pain.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mitt Romney has touted his record as a job creator while working in corporate restructuring

Mitt Romney, out campaigning in New Hampshire, was "hammering" the president on the economy, according to the Washington Post.

But they also note that he failed to mention today's figures. Campaigners are always helped when they can ride the news cycle, happily ringing its bells.

It is less good when they are forced to ignore the main news of the day because it doesn't fit their argument.

So a recovery, even a gradual, slow one that doesn't make many people feel better off, goes some way to undermine Republican arguments that President Obama is a total failure.

When a critical component of their own policies are deep cutbacks in government spending it doesn't help that the only gloomy news in today's figures is that state and federal governments are still shedding jobs, denting the recovery.

Of course, a slight recovery won't, and shouldn't, stop them arguing that their policies would be even better and would lead to a faster recovery. But it makes their argument a little harder, a little less obvious.