Dismal US jobs figures have delivered a blow to president Barack Obama's re-election argument that he has been a steward of recovery - and breathed new life into the campaign of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.
Three months of lacklustre growth and a surge in joblessness to 8.2% in May have forced Mr Obama onto the defensive after a winter when the job trends were in his favour. It also heightened White House anxiety over global threats to US economic growth.
The economy, struggling to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression, has had to fend off a number of external pressures, from high oil prices to natural disasters and now, economic troubles in Europe and a weakening economy in China.
The unemployment numbers, while imprecise and typically a lagging indicator of economic performance, are nevertheless an undeniable marker of the human cost of a weak economy.
No US president since the Great Depression has sought re-election with unemployment as high as it is now, and past incumbents have lost when the rate was on the rise.
The economy, Mr Obama has conceded, "is not growing as fast as we want it to".
Taking a harsher tone, Mr Romney declared that the country appeared to be "moving backward", as he sought to drive home a political point from the nation's first increase in joblessness in almost a year.
Confronted by a report of just 69,000 new jobs in May, Mr Obama vigorously renewed his demand that Congress step up and enact some of his jobs proposals. He said Republicans had been driven in part by a focus to "beat Obama", and he hoped winning a second term would change that mentality.
"My hope, my expectation is that after the election, now that it turns out the goal of beating Obama doesn't make much sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again," Mr Obama said.
The president later told donors at a Minneapolis fundraiser that the last four years had been "as tough a period in our country's history as anything in our lifetimes, certainly since the 1930s". He said his administration had tried to make "dogged progress" but acknowledged "we're not out of the woods yet".