Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Exactly what does being “better off than four years ago” look like?
Commentary by James H. Shott
The DC newspaper The Hill has a new poll that found 52 percent of likely voters believe the country is now in "worse condition" than four years ago, while just 31 percent believe it's in "better condition."
It is pretty clear that people believe they are not better off today than four years ago, but what would things look like if we were better off today?
Well, for example, if your home was worth $80,000 in September of 2008 it should not be worth less today and perhaps should have gained a little value. Or, if you were out of work then, you should have a job today, and if you had a job then, you should perhaps be making a little more today. It should not cost you much more to fill your car with gas, and trips to the grocery store should cost about the same today as then.
However, most Americans cannot make such claims today. Most homeowners have lost value in their homes; more than 34 million of us are unemployed, underemployed, or have exhausted unemployment insurance and become so discouraged that we have given up looking for work; gasoline prices have doubled, food and health care prices have increased; and relatively few have seen their wages increase.
The jobs numbers released last Friday reflect feeble job creation in August. Just to stay even with the new people entering the job market each month the economy must create 125,000 jobs, and to make progress in replacing those jobs lost during the recession we need lots more new jobs than that. The 96,000 new jobs created in August falls 29,000 jobs short of what’s needed just to stay even.
The U-3 unemployment rate fell from 8.3 to 8.1 percent. It most often is a good sign when the U-3 rate falls, but the fact that for every job created four people gave up looking for work and dropped out of the active work force means no good news there.
Economist James Fitzgibbon of the Highlander Group said that "If we impute the data samplings of non-working citizens at the labor force rate of January 2009 we would have a Household U-3 Unemployment rate currently of 11.4%." That isn’t better than four years ago, either.
Mr. Fitzgibbon then addresses the effect on the Labor Force Participation rate of the 368,000 people who dropped out of the labor force last month, which "has fallen sharply to 63.5 percent, a new 31-year low reading."
Add to that the fact that from June 2009 to June 2012, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 4.8 percent, to $50,964, according to a report by Sentier Research. The report notes that incomes have dropped more since the beginning of the recovery than they did during the recession itself, when they declined 2.6 percent. That certainly does not indicate we are better off than four years ago.
Yet, Vice President Joe Biden said last week at a campaign appearance at an AFL-CIO event just before the beginning of the Democrat National Convention that his answer to the question “Are you better off than four years ago,” is “yes, we are.”
"You want to know whether we're better off? I've got a little bumper sticker for you: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," Mr. Biden proclaimed.
After 43 months in office, the vice president cites only two things to support the idea that we are better off than four years ago, both weak. As good as it is that bin Laden has been dispatched to his just reward, whether he is alive or dead is totally irrelevant as a measure of whether Americans are better off today than four years ago. The other one, General Motors, is not looking quite as bright and shiny as the vice president seems to think it is.
The company is losing market share; its products are not competitive in the American market. The federal government owns 500,000,000 shares of GM, or about 26 percent of the company, which earned it the nickname “Government Motors.” The government not only cheated GM bondholders out of their investment when it acquired the stock, but would need to get about $53.00 a share to break even on the “investment,” but the stock currently sells for about $20.21 a share. The government has $10.1 billion worth of stock, and sits on an unrealized loss of $16.4 billion.
President Barack Obama showed what he thinks is important when he put his ideology ahead of what Mr. Biden termed his “profound concern for the average American.” His first priorities were taking over the healthcare system and force-feeding green energy to the American people. That put energy industry workers out of work, cost Americans millions in higher prices, and lost a pile of taxpayer money. But like the man said, “You don’t ever want a good crisis to go to waste.”
The President’s foolish, ham-handed decision to focus on health care and green energy have damaged, not improved, the economy, and as Clint Eastwood so perceptively noted in Tampa, “When somebody doesn’t do the job, we gotta let ‘em go.”
Cross-posted from Observations