Editorial: Explaining policies that cause job losses/growth is key to Obama victory

No candidate wants to embrace a national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent and suggest it is an accomplishment of a president’s first four years in office. On the other hand, it is imperative the president remind the nation how far the economy had fallen in the aftermath of President George W. Bush’s policies, explain the depth of the Great Recession and the underlying reasons that prompted it, and promote how current policies are producing slow but steady improvement.

Those numbers don’t lie.

As George W. Bush was finishing out his last few months in office, the policies he sowed reaped an economic disaster. Because of lax federal regulations, shenanigans throughout the financial sector and national debt that was skyrocketing because of eight years of tax cuts while fighting two major wars, by Sept. 1, 2008, the economy was in a nosedive that had started several months before. The financial and insurance industry was on the verge of collapse or default, the auto industry was on the edge of bankruptcy and the housing markets, real estate and construction sectors were in the midst of the biggest crisis in 75 years. In that September alone, the nation lost 400,000 jobs.

But that was just the start. By November 2008, as Americans elected Barack Obama as president, the nation was losing 800,000 jobs a month. That rate of job losses held steady in December, January, February and into March — not because of Obama's policies (though Republicans include those job losses during his term as his fault), but because of the prior administration. No economist disagrees the policies and practices under Bush's two terms were responsible for those job losses that lasted well into the first half of 2009.

In total, 8.4 million jobs were lost during what economists have called the official duration of the Great Recession — from December 2007 to June 2009, an average of 422,000 jobs lost each month for 19 months. That’s 6.1 percent of all payroll employment, compared to 3.1 percent job losses in the nation’s previous major recession in 1981 and the deepest recession the nation had witnessed since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

As we consider what policies to put into place and which candidate to elect as president for the next four years, Americans must put into perspective just how deep a hole the economy was in when President Obama took office.

Consider, also, how much it has recovered. By September 2009 — just nine months after Obama took office — the nation’s job losses were still high (200,000 that month), but the government stimulus had kicked in and the turn-around had begun. By March 2010, the nation added 200,000 jobs, another 225,000 in April and 500,000 more (in round numbers) in May. But the world’s economy was reeling too, which stalled the nation’s nascent recovery before job gains became the norm in October 2010 — ranging between 50,000 and 250,000 jobs gained per month for the past 20 months.

That’s not great growth. To get the unemployment rate down even further, the nation needs to generate a lot more jobs, but it is a heck of a lot better than what he inherited, and the nation's economy is no longer an island. The global scene effects just how much domestic policies matter. Moreover, the Republican-led House has been fighting the president’s stimulus policies for the past three years as if they have purposely tried to sabotage the economy and assure the recovery was not robust — a good strategy if your goal is to try to unseat the incumbent, but a lousy strategy if the goal is to strengthen the nation and provide jobs for the unemployed.

Interestingly, one of the big differences in the employment picture today is the loss of public sector jobs since President Obama took office. That sector rose in every year of President Bush’s eight-year term, rising from 20,800,000 in Jan. 2001 to 22,500,000 when Bush left office in 2008. If the rate of job growth in that sector had continued through today, according to a report done by the Hamilton Project, the number of additional jobs created would have been 1.7 million and the unemployment rate would be well below 8 percent. Instead, the number of public sector jobs has decreased under President Obama to 22,000,000 — a loss of 500,000 jobs from the public sector, but which also reduces public spending and the national debt.

That Republicans in this era even have the gall to suggest they are stewards of the economy, and champions of spending cuts is outrageous. The opposite had been the case under President Bush from 2001-2008, and Republican Mitt Romney is promising more of the same policies if he’s elected. (Tax cuts, waging wars and more spending on defense is no way to balance the budget and reduce the national debt as President Bush demonstrated so well.

President Obama’s policies on the other hand, have turned the economy around, albeit slowly, while fighting a Republican House that has been opposed to more fiscal stimulus when it was needed, while pressing for insane tax breaks to the wealthiest few.

No question that more needs to be done to boost the economy. But in comparing the candidates, Obama and his policies certainly have a better track record and trend line than Romney’s embrace of essentially the same policies under Bush II that led the nation into financial chaos.

Angelo S. Lynn

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