Just as he does every election year, President Obama is pivoting to the economy.
Why? Because the economy is, and always has been, the No. 1 issue for American voters. Mr. Obama swept into office with feel-good promises of a post-partisan paradise, but it was his pledge of prosperity that twice got him elected.
In 2008, voters were smashed by the economic meltdown that occurred just weeks before Election Day. Republican Sen. John McCain was on record as saying the economy wasn’t exactly his strong suit (“The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he said in 2007). So, a first-term senator who didn’t have a clue about business got the nod.
But nearly six years after that historic election, American is as bad off as it was that November day in 2008. Yes, the unemployment rate has dropped, but only from 6.8 percent when Mr. Obama was elected to 6.1 percent today. That number, though, tells only a fraction of the story.
The workforce participation rate — the number of Americans actually working — has plunged since Mr. Obama was elected. Then, nearly two of three (66 percent) were employed. Now, the percentage is 62.8 — the lowest since January 1978 (not a coincidence that another malaise-ridden Democratic president was in office then).
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Slashing the workforce participation rate means dropping millions of unemployed people from the pool of workers. Once eliminated, the unemployment rate calculated by the federal government is lowered (we call it “cooking the books”). Nice work if you can get it.
With millions unemployed, millions more “underemployed” (Gallup puts that number at 15.3 percent), millions forced to work just part time so employers can avoid the burdensome “Affordable” Care Act, and millions of 18- to 30-year-olds moving back in with their parents, the president still insists the economy is going great guns.
“After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created 10 million new jobs over the last 54 months,” he said last week at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner in Washington, D.C. “This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in our history. In our history!”
Well, yeah, sort of. Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, so he’s into his 70th month as president. Why does he mention just the last 54 months? Because the economy lost nearly 5 million jobs in his first 15 in office, so he cooks the books again to come up with a catchy campaign sound bite.
For reference, Ronald Reagan was president when some 16 million jobs were created. During the Internet boom and housing bubble glory days when Bill Clinton was president, more than 22 million jobs were created. For Mr. Obama, the number stands at 5.1 million. Not so catchy.
“There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office. Unemployment down. Deficits down. Uninsured down. Poverty down,” he said to applause.
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All hooey. The latest job report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, published last month, showed just 142,000 jobs created, down from an average monthly increase of 298,000. Meanwhile, more than 500,000 full-time jobs were lost as some 800,000 part-time jobs were created — the highest increase in part-time employment since 1993.
What’s more, the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia said that about 18 percent of employers cut full-time workers because of the Affordable Care Act (the New York Fed said it was more like 21 percent). So while the number of uninsured may be down (and there’s significant debate about whether that’s true), the cost to the U.S. economy has only just begun.
On poverty, yes, the rate has fallen from the highest level it has reached since 1993 — and that was 2010, Mr. Obama’s second year in office. That year, the rate was 15.1 percent. In fact, the poverty rate has stood at about 15 percent for three consecutive years, the first time that has happened since the mid-1960s.
About 50 million Americans live below the poverty line and a record 47 million of them — 13 million more than when the president assumed office — receive food stamps, The Washington Times reported in January. Worse, as of 2012, the median income for all U.S. households was $51,021, which was 4.9 percent lower than it was in 2008.
On Mr. Obama bragging about reducing the deficit, that’s like someone saying they spent $100,000 more than they earned last year, but this year they only overspent by $98,000. And funny, too, that the president points it out: It was HIS trillion-dollar deficits that set a new record, so anything less than that looks downright thrifty. Hardly something to boast about.
So as usual with this president, it’s all just exactly the opposite of what he claims. “There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office”? For the truth, re-read that last sentence, just drop the “not.”
But that wouldn’t exactly work as a campaign slogan, now would it?
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.