This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly Employment Situation Summary, and it was truly superb. The headline numbers were a “non-farm payroll employment” increase of 248,000 in September, and a decline in the unemployment rate to 5.9 percent. On the White House blog, Jason Furman of the Council of Economic Advisors put these numbers in perspective: a) “private sector has added 10.3 million jobs over 55 straight months of job growth, extending the longest streak on record”; b) the unemployment rate is now “the lowest since July 2008, and is down 1.3 percentage point over the last year”; and c) “more than 700,000 jobs added” in the manufacturing sector over the course of the economic recovery, with “an increase in the average workweek to levels not seen since World War II.”
So, while it’s not time to be breaking into the song “Happy Days are Here Again,” I’d say it’s most certainly time to start recognizing that something real – and really good – has been happening. And, of course, it’s long past time start allotting credit (and blame) where credit (and blame) is due. The fact is, when President Obama assumed office in late January 2009, the economy he inherited from 8 years of Republican misrule was in freefall, no matter how you want to look at it. Look at that private sector payroll employment graph and you can see it starkly depicted: we’ve gone from job losses of more than 800,000 per month (!!!) when President Obama was sworn in, to job gains every single month for the past 4 years, 7 months.
Why did that happen? Very clearly, it was the result of the various emergency actions and longer-term economic policies that the Obama Administration and the Democratic-led Congress took during 2009. That includes the much-maligned (by Republicans) economic recovery act, which despite the critics’ constant carping, has worked as well or even better than intended. Meanwhile, it’s now apparent that other policies – like expanding health care access to millions of Americans through the Affordable Care Act — far from having trashed the economy, as Republicans promised they would, have if anything helped it. In fairness, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which was proposed by Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, certainly was important as well. The fact that Republicans were dragged kicking and screaming into doing it speaks volumes, though.
Speaking of Republicans, if it weren’t for them, the recovery would have happened a lot faster and stronger than it did. First off, the initial economic “stimulus” package could have, and should have, been a lot bigger, with more of the money targeted at infrastructure investments, a lot more help to the states, far more aid to the unemployed, etc.
The reason it wasn’t bigger/better? Mostly, because Republicans had decided that their #1 goal wasn’t to help the country’s economy recover, but to try to make President Obama (and along with him, of course, the country) fail. There were also a few “conservadems” to blame, of course, but overwhelmingly it was Republican recklessness, irresponsibility and belief in Herbert Hoover-style “austerity” policies (e.g., “let Detroit go bankrupt”). Crazy.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, once the extremist Tea Party Republicans took back the House of Representatives in November 2010, they started acting like…well, extremists. For instance, in the summer of 2011, they subjected the country (and the world) to a potentially ruinous crisis over the U.S. debt ceiling. Teapublicans also blocked any further economic recovery measures, instead pushing for increased austerity, such as we ended up getting with the brain-dead “sequestration” policy we’re suffering with now. And, as if one debt ceiling crisis wasn’t bad enough, Republicans tortured the country yet again in 2013 with their insanity, shutting down the federal government for good (actually bad — very bad) measure!
On and on and it goes, with the only way it stops being to boot out every last one of the Tea Party crazies. Instead, in the infinite wisdom of the American voter, the people who have worked so diligently (and successfully) to get the country’s economy back on the right track (those would be the Democrats) were severely punished in 2010. Yes, in 2012 Democrats held onto the White House, but the House remained in Teapublican hands, despite Democrats winning more votes than Republicans for that chamber. Maddening.
And now, in just a few weeks, mid-term elections will determine which party controls the Congress. Will voters, in their “infinite wisdom,” see fit to yet again reward the Republicans, the ones who set the economy on fire and then stood in the way of the people running for the water hoses? Or, will they reward – and punish – people based on their actions, which of course would result in Democrats sweeping elections for House and Senate on November 4, 2014, then for the White House and Congress in 2016. Sure, I “get” that many voters don’t feel the economic recovery yet, in part because wages have lagged. But again, whose fault is THAT? (hint: it’s the party whose first letters are “Repub” and last letters are “licans”) I guess we’ll see in a few weeks whether American voters are hell bent on rewarding the bad guys and punishing the good guys, or (hopefully) vice versa.
P.S. More to the point, will voters elect people who want to roll up their sleeves and get to work on continuing (and broadening) the progress with the U.S. economy (and yes, there’s a lot more work to do), not to mention dealing with a whole host of important challenges like transitioning to clean energy, addressing climate change and foreign policy crises, providing funds for needed infrastructure investment, etc, etc?