With the release each month of the job numbers, we see the two parties’ competing narratives. Democrats declare, “Look at the job growth! The president’s policies are working!” The Republicans say, “You must be joking. It’s been years since the first stimulus, and we are still above 8 percent unemployment.”
Today that certainly played out. The Post reports: “The nation’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.3 percent in February despite better-than-expected job growth, according to government data released Friday. The Labor Department said that the economy added 227,000 jobs last month.” Even with some improved job growth, it was “not enough to move the needle on the overall jobless rate, one of the most closely watched indicators of the country’s economic health.” And even more troubling, “More than 5 million people have been unemployed for longer than six months, accounting for nearly 43 percent of those who are out of work, government data show.”
Out on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney responded to the president’s performance and a glowing, new “documentary” (no more real than “Spinal Tap” and a whole lot less funny) that can’t find any weaknesses (!) in The One:
The focus on the continued high unemployment and high gas problems will be an ongoing theme for the GOP. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement that read in part: “Three years of ‘stimulus’ spending, tax hikes, and excessive government regulations have left us with unemployment that has remained above eight percent for 37 consecutive months, and Americans are increasingly worried about the amount of debt owed to countries like China. Meanwhile, gas prices have nearly doubled as the Obama administration has rejected new energy production, blocked and lobbied against projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, and promoted policies that would drive prices up even further.”
Meanwhile, like the rooster convinced the sun rising in the morning is due to his crowing, the president’s spinners insist they get credit. Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute has another take, looking in detail at the job figures. He finds, “If the size of the U.S. labor force as a share of the total population was the same as it was when Barack Obama took office — 65.7% then vs. 63.9% today — the U-3 unemployment rate would be 10.8%.” In addition, he notes:
Then there’s the broader, U-6 measure of unemployment which includes the discouraged plus part-timers who wish they had full time work. That unemployment rate, perhaps the truest measure of the labor market’s health, is still a sky-high 14.9% ....
As Ed Carson of Investor’s Business Daily points out, it’s been a whopping 49 months since the U.S. hit peak employment in January 2008. The average job recovery time since 1980 is 29 months, not including the current slump.
This it seems is the nub of the argument: Are the president’s policies paying off, or is unemployment abnormally high and the recovery unusually weak because of those policies?