The federal deficit has fallen sharply. The stock market has often hit record highs over the last few months. The housing market has rebounded across much of the land.
But this troubling economic reality persists: The national unemployment rate remains historically — and painfully — high, rising from 7.2 percent to 7.3 percent in October in statistics released last week by the Labor Department.
Another sad fact: Our elected leaders in Washington keep dodging the difficult, overdue decisions necessary to bolster America’s short-term economic comeback — and to assure its long-range fiscal stability.
And that 7.3 percent unemployment rate doesn’t count the far too many Americans who have given up on finding work, and thus are not factored into the jobless equation.
However, there’s an even scarier jobless number — the record 91.5 million Americans 16 and older who are no longer part of the labor force.
That included a boost of 932,000 last month, bringing the alarming total of those who have left the work force during President Barack Obama’s White House tenure to at least 9.8 million.
Some of the increase is due to an aging population, some to the residual consequences of the financial-sector meltdown the president inherited.
Yet nearly five years into his presidency, Mr. Obama also bears considerable responsibility for the ongoing jobless plague. In 2009 he pushed for and got a $787 billion stimulus that ended up costing $831 billion. It was supposed to create lots of “shovel ready jobs.” It did not.
In 2010, the president pushed for and got a massive health care reform law (without a single Republican vote) that was supposed to lower medical costs while letting Americans who liked their insurance plans keep them. It does not.
The president — and both parties in Congress — have also fallen into the duty-ducking habit of failing to find common ground on specific spending plans. Instead, they repeatedly rely on continuing resolutions based on previous budgets, even as Medicare and Social Security lurch ever closer to bottom-line oblivion.
Sequestered spending reductions mandated by the 2011 “fiscal cliff” deal did play a major role in reducing the deficit to “only” $680 billion in the 2013 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. But that was the still the fifth highest deficit in U.S. history — and all of the top five have come on President Obama’s watch.
Plus, despite that sequester’s spending-cuts benefit, it uses a figurative meat cleaver where a surgeon’s scalpel is needed.
Yes, there is some encouraging economic news. From Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal: “Many families have paid down debts and are seeing the value of assets, from homes to stocks, rebound strongly.”
Still, that story also reported: “But many others — the young, the less educated and particularly the unemployed — are experiencing hardly any recovery at all. Hiring remains weak, and the jobs that are available are disproportionately low-paying and often part-time. Wage growth is nearly nonexistent, in part because with so many people still looking for jobs, workers have little bargaining power.”
And the business community understandably has scant confidence for expansions and new hiring when Congress and the president keep failing to chart a coherent budgetary path.
Last month’s congressional accord that ended the government shutdown and raised the debt ceiling was another continuing resolution that avoided tough budgetary choices.
A similar evasion of duty seems likely on Jan. 15 when the current resolution expires.
Meanwhile, even the thriving stock market hasn’t reversed these ominous, related trends:
As the politicians in Washington keep failing to step up to the hard fiscal calls needed, the number of Americans leaving the work force keeps going up.