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The real unemployment rate rises to 9.6 percent when long-term, uncounted, jobless workers who have stopped looking for work are added to the equation.

Throw in 8 million part-timers who desperately need full-time work, and the rate zooms to 14.6 percent, says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

Officially, roughly 12 million unemployed Americans are searching for a job, and 2 out of 5 of them have been looking in vain for a half a year or longer.

The truth is that the mediocre job numbers we’ve seen this year, as we did last year, have not kept pace with worker population growth.

Economic growth “is weak and jobs are in jeopardy, because temporary tax cuts, stimulus spending, large federal deficits, expensive but ineffective business regulations, and costly health care mandates championed by Obama do not address the structural problems holding back dynamic growth and job creation,” Mr. Morici says.

The American economy is in trouble enough, but it will get worse before year’s end. That’s when the White House and Republicans in a lame-duck Congress must prevent it from tumbling off the “fiscal cliff” and possibly into another recession.

When the clock strikes midnight to kick off Jan. 1, President George W. Bush’s across-the-board income tax cuts will expire, if they’re not extended or made permanent by then. The hour will also trigger automatic spending cuts that will carve $500 billion from the budget, including deep cuts in the Pentagon that will result in widespread defense industry layoffs.

That, too, is when the president is threatening to play a game of chicken with Republicans on Capitol Hill, vowing to veto any bill that does not raise the two top tax rates for wealthier Americans.

Add a high-stakes debt-ceiling battle and a threatened shootout over the Social Security payroll tax cut, and it’ll make this year’s nasty campaign wars look like summer camp.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.