One of the more important jobs reports of the last four years, coming the morning after the President’s nomination speech at the DNC, and just two months before his re-election, came up weak today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the economy gained just 96,000 jobs in August. Worse, the revisions for June and July both fell as well, from +64,000 to +45,000 for June, and from +163,000 to +141,000 for July. Add it all together, and the economy has just 55,000 more net jobs than we thought last month. This is a poor report, especially when you consider that 9,000 of the gains came from the resolution of a utility strike. (More to the point, a lockout at ConEd. Either way, these are job “gains” in name only.)

The silver lining for the Administration is that the topline unemployment rate fell, from 8.3% to 8.1%. But that can be attributed to the declines in the employment-population ratio. The EPOP has fallen from 58.6% in June, to 58.3% in August. This has a huge impact on the topline rate number; if more people have dropped out of the labor force and are therefore not “counted,” then the topline rate can look like a smaller number without representing vastly less people out of work. The labor force participation rate dropped too, down to 63.5%. (UPDATE: that’s the lowest level in 30 years, per CNBC.)

We still have 12.5 million unemployed Americans, and given what I just explained, even more who aren’t in the labor force anymore, having either given up finding work or gone back to school or whatever. Long-term unemployed are down nearly 400,000 since May, but again this goes back to those who dropped out of the workforce.

The big gainers on jobs were in food and drink, health care, and the amorphous “professional and technical services,” which covers computer systems and consulting. Finance and insurance also added 11,000 jobs. Manufacturing, a heavy component of the President’s speech last night, dipped by 15,000 jobs, particularly because of 8,000 jobs lost in the auto industry.

And wages were down 1 cent for the month.

Overall, this is a really bad report. It reflects the fact that the jobs carnage has not ended at all, and that we’re still well below potential in the economy. And yet we heard a speech last night that looked past this jobs crisis and toward the future. There’s a here and now that is crushing on families.

And yet the drop in the topline number at least gives a superficial story for the Administration to tell, and the whole thing will become a he said/she said. It’s sad.

UPDATE: Forgot to add that private payrolls increased by 103,000 in August, while public payrolls dropped another 7,000. The losses in the public sector are slower, but they’re still losses.