- - Tuesday, January 7, 2014

President Obama and the Democrats desperately need a political issue to distract struggling, jobless Americans from their economic misery. They think “income inequality” and raising the minimum wage is the answer to their problems.

However, the yawning income gap between the wealthy and the middle class is not the cause of our lingering economic troubles. It is a symptom of the president’s failed economic policies. Raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour won’t help, either. It will only make things worse, as employers find ways to cut their payroll costs.

The United States needs stronger economic growth, in the 5 percent a year range, that leads to increased job-creating capital investment. These terms are not in Mr. Obama’s vocabulary, though, let alone in his policies.

Battered by a so-so economy, in which 11 million people remain unemployed, and by a botched health care reform plan, the president is said to be retooling his class-warfare rhetoric to pump up his disappointed and dispirited political base.

The issue of “economic fairness” worked for him in the 2012 election, and Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders think it can work for them again in this year’s midterm elections.

It can’t, and it won’t. This time around, the polls show a growing number of voters aren’t buying his class-warfare demagoguery any longer. Take a look at his declining job-approval scores, and you’ll see why.

Throughout 2013, the Gallup Poll’s surveys showed a steady decline in his job-approval numbers — falling from 52 percent in January to 41 percent in December. A closer look at the numbers shows that most of his shrinking job approval was a result of a 14-point decline among independent voters and, most notably, a 15-point loss among Democrats.

“The dip among Democrats explains why Mr. Obama has of late focused on economic inequality,” writes Chris Cillizza, a political analyst for The Washington Post. “Those moves are aimed at rallying the party’s base and, with it, Obama’s approval numbers.”

That seems unlikely at this juncture. At this same point in Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s second terms, Reagan had a 62 percent approval rate, and Mr. Clinton’s score was 58 percent. Both presided over very strong economies.

The Democrats’ political troubles are also worsening because Mr. Obama’s economy remains mediocre five years after he came into office, saying he would fix it by throwing $800 billion at the problem. That didn’t work.

You don’t hear much about the nation’s unemployment rate now, except once a month when the Department of Labor issues its “seasonally adjusted” numbers. The news media tends to overlook the painful reality behind the cold, hard numbers that are a daily survival nightmare in much of the country.

Consider this all-too-common story from Hagerstown, Md., where Shenandoah Family Farms had three dozen or so job openings recently, but received 1,600 applicants.

A year ago, Neil Irwin, The Washington Post’s chief economic analyst, wrote a New Year’s article that asked, “Will this be the year that the economy finally breaks out of its pattern of sluggish growth that has held since the recession ended in 2009?”

His answer last week was “a resounding no.”

“On jobs, for example, the nation added an average of 183,000 a month in 2012 — and 189,000 a month through the first 11 months of 2013.”

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