- - Monday, July 7, 2014


“Jobs surge,” shouts one nationally distributed print headline. “Investors on Thursday seized on robust jobs numbers.” This, in response to the Bureau Of Labor Statistics report for June: “Total non-farm payroll employment increased by 288,000.” But left out of the euphoria is another part of that same BLS report: “The number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons ( sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) increased by 275,000.” The net increase in full time work is … 13,000? So this is what passes for robust in the 21st century. And so it goes, with the liberal policies of President Obama leading us down the garden path.

Many today are too young to know, or have forgotten, what a genuine robust recovery looks like. To paraphrase an old axiom, if you can’t learn from what was good about history, you’re doomed not to repeat it. But year after disappointing “year of Obama” and summer after “summer of recovery,” they insist on following the same failed liberal path.

(Have you noticed how liberals love to refer to the “great recession”? It is simply a way to mitigate and excuse Mr. Obama’s poor performance. But to subconsciously reference the “Great Depression” as relative in any way is quite a reach. The 2008 recession lasted only 18 months, and saw a 4.3 percent decline in GDP versus a 26 percent drop in the early 1930s. No, the emphasis belongs on the post-recession performance. )

Let’s analyze one good economic lesson from history. We need only to go back thirty years or so to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. This turns out to be quite a teachable moment given that Mr. Reagan also inherited a serious recession, with 10.8 percent unemployment versus 10 percent in 2009.

Back then (much to President Jimmy Carter’s chagrin) there was a “misery index” in the news, created in fact by an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, Arthur Okun. Adding unemployment and inflation rates together, it actually reached 20.8 percent in 1980, while in 2009 it was under 9 percent. (In the early 1980s, 16 percent plus mortgage rates were the norm. Mortgage rates since 2009 have averaged 4.4 percent.)

(Ironically, the 2008 recession was due to a housing bubble and mortgage meltdown created by liberals, including the second highest all-time recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac campaign contributions, then-Senator Obama. And he achieved this lofty ranking in only a single senatorial term.)

Mr. Reagan had to contend with both a severe unemployment crisis and extreme inflation. He unswervingly went to work with conservative principles. How did that turn out?

It took about two years for Mr. Reagan to undo what he inherited. According to the BLS there were only 68,000 more non-farm jobs in all of 1982 (89,328,000 in January, 89,396,000 in December). But the job market really warmed up in 1983, with 3,467,000 new jobs, about 289,000 per month. In 1984, warmer still - just under 4,000,000 new non-farm jobs – about 327,000 per month. (At this point, Mr. Reagan’s two year job numbers equaled Obama’s jobs numbers in five years.) And another 2,563,000 new jobs created in 1985. This is what robust jobs growth looks like.

How would the liberal media describe these kinds of numbers today? If the current coverage is any indication there would be whoops and hollers, and talk of repealing the 22nd amendment. But here the math does get slightly more complicated; suppose the media could claim current job numbers that were equal to Mr. Reagan‘s, they would still be overstating their case. The non-farm workforce was 90 million in 1982. It was 131 million in 2009 … a 45 percent larger workforce.

From the low point in 1982 through 1986, there were about twelve million new non-farm jobs. From the 2009 low point through 2013 … about 7.5 million. So, with a 45 percent larger workforce, Obama would need about seventeen million to equal the strength of the Reagan recovery. Monthly and yearly figures cited above (1984, for instance) would today equate to 474,000 a month and almost six million jobs annually! This is what a Reagan-style recovery would look like today.

A Reaganesque seventeen million jobs compared to Obama’s seven million jobs … there’s conservative versus liberal … there’s the ten million or so folks still stuck on the couch.

Recalling the research of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, President George W. Bush often referred to the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Isn’t it time the liberals take the long view and stop excusing this sad performance, and stop applying this soft bigotry to their charismatic neophyte? These low economic expectations have whitewashed the loss of as many as ten million jobs, when the Reagan way forward toward great employment heights was always there to see.

Mr. Urban writes from Catonsville, Maryland.

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