President Obama pivots to the economy . . . arguably for the second time this month. The RNC collected these “pivots” for a while, until they became as numerous as his statement expiration dates.
Sure, the unemployment rate is down to 7.6 percent, after peaking at 10.1 percent; of course, that’s a slow decline since the beginning of 2012 (8.3 percent). This is still high by historical standards (the unemployment rate was below 7 percent from June 1993 to December 2008) and the unemployment rate’s drop is fueled in part by a steep decline in the labor-force participation rate, from 66 percent of all Americans over age 16 to close to 63 percent.
If you’ve got money in the stock market, you’re enjoying a bullish run. About 30 percent of American households have $10,000 or more in stocks. But for most of the folks who suffered the biggest fall in the Great Recession’s start, back in autumn 2008, economic security is hard to find. Wages are stagnant, and actually slightly less than at the end of 2009.
Asked about the issues that will dominate the 2014 races, the heads of the NRCC and DCCC tell Chuck Todd the economy first, before Obamacare and immigration (admittedly related to the state of the economy), gun control, social issues, etc. The issue of our continuing economic troubles never went away; it’s just that the narrative-setters lost interest. To the political class of both parties, the pain is far away (Washington’s economy is comparatively thriving, even in the Age of Sequester) and their preferred options are blocked by the opposition’s role in government.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer assures us, “Over the next several weeks, the President will deliver speeches that touch on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America: job security, a good education, a home to call your own, affordable health care when you get sick, and the chance to save for a secure, dignified retirement.”
What holds back the economy?
- Companies are reluctant to hire the long-term unemployed.
- The increase in home ownership during the past decade made it tougher for workers to relocate for new opportunities in other places.
- Those who are classified “long-term unemployed” have generally lost skills that kept them competitive in the job market; folks who made a good living as Realtors during the housing boom have a tough time participating in, say, the fracking boom.
- Washington and state governments love certain industries — e.g. green-jobs programs that meet 55 percent of their job-placement targets — and hate others, e.g., EPA officials who compare their approach to oil companies to crucifixion.
- Obamacare’s regulations make part-time workers more economically attractive to employers than full-time workers.
- At the beginning of the year, payroll taxes went up, amounting to a 2 percent reduction in most Americans’ take-home pay.
These problems are not likely to be solved by another big-spending “jobs” bill; some of them are probably beyond the capacity of Washington to solve. But the president needs to say something about it — so he will give more speeches, and assure his followers that “if those mean House Republicans would just pass another version of the stimulus I passed in 2009, everything would be fine.”