MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. With the conventions behind us, today begins the final stretch of the presidential race, a 60-day sprint to November with the candidates crisscrossing the country, blanketing the airwaves and eventually debating on stage face to face. The sprint began today with a rough start for President Obama. The Labor Department released disappointing new unemployment numbers for August. Both the president and Mitt Romney talked about the numbers while campaigning today as they visited the same two swing states.
BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Economists were expecting more than 125,000 new jobs in August. Instead, the number was just 96,000. The unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent, but it fell for the wrong reason. Hundreds of thousands of people gave up looking for work. This was not the way President Obama wanted to come off his party's nominating convention. He flew to New Hampshire this morning.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Oh, it is good to be back in Portsmouth.
SHAPIRO: The vice president, the first lady and Jill Biden joined him. Mr. Obama tried to put the best spin on the unemployment numbers, reminding people that he never promised a quick fix.
OBAMA: Today, we learned that after losing around 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, business once again added jobs for the 30th month in a row, a total of more than 4.6 million jobs.
SHAPIRO: While that's true, the economy is barely adding jobs fast enough to keep up with people entering the labor market. The president said he has proposals to create jobs more quickly, but Republicans in Congress won't act on them.
OBAMA: We could create a million new jobs right now if Congress would pass the jobs plan that I sent to them a year ago. Jobs for teachers, jobs for construction workers, jobs for folks who've been looking for work for a long time. We can do that.
SHAPIRO: The president also revisited many of the points from his convention speech last night. Jan Gingress(ph) watched all three days of the convention on TV. It left her feeling fired up.
JAN GINGRESS: I liked his idea, his American dream. He's for the people. He understands where we're from, where we're headed and gives us hope. I don't feel that with his opponent.
SHAPIRO: From New Hampshire, the president flew to Iowa, which is where Mitt Romney started his day.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND)
SHAPIRO: A college marching band entertained people waiting to see the presidential nominee at this gym in Orange City. This far northwestern corner of Iowa is the most Republican part of the state. How conservative is it? Well, college student Alyssa Courier(ph) is president of her campus Democrats.
ALYSSA COURIER: There's one other person in my club and that's the vice president.
SHAPIRO: So this Romney stop was not about winning over disillusioned Obama voters. It's about turning out the base. Romney told the cheering crowd that he didn't watch President Obama's speech last night, but he read the transcript this morning.
MITT ROMNEY: There was a whole series of new promises, which he also won't be able to keep because the policies he believes in and the direction he's pulling will not make America stronger. If President Obama were reelected, we would have four more years of the last four years and the American people are going to say no to that.
SHAPIRO: Romney only got around to the new unemployment numbers near the end of his speech. He said if the president's policies had succeeded, millions more people would have jobs today.
ROMNEY: Wouldn't have as many seniors wondering whether they're going to be able to put food on the table at the end of the week. We wouldn't have as many young people wondering whether they can afford college next semester. Wouldn't have as many college graduates asking themself, can I possibly find a job.
SHAPIRO: Michael Stouffer(ph) is a college senior.
MICHAEL STOUFFER: Well, when I see the number of unemployment in my age group, 18 to 29-year-olds, is that it's almost up to 13 percent now, it's a little frightening.
SHAPIRO: He's studying to be high school history teacher. President Obama wants to send federal money to the states to help prevent teacher lay-offs. Republicans say no. But Stouffer isn't worried.
STOUFFER: I don't see it as that big of a problem. I mean, if teachers are doing good, their schools are doing good, they're going to keep their job. It's just - it's when schools have to consolidate or when the teachers aren't performing well, it's just like any other job that one holds.
SHAPIRO: Both of these swing states have a much lower unemployment rate than the 8.1 percent national average. Here in Iowa, it's 5.3 percent and in New Hampshire, the unemployment rate is down to 5.4 percent. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Orange City, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.