Last week President Barack Obama triggered a firestorm of criticism – even from many of his allies – when he tested the argument that the private sector is doing “fine”. Here’s his full quote:
“The truth of the matter is that, as I said, we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government”
On first blush, it sounds like nonsense. A big majority of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, according to pollsters, and the headlines are full of economic woe.
But set against the general mood are other counter-indicators. We know that corporations, banks and big businesses are sitting on big pools of cash, afraid to invest and expand (we’re told) because of uncertainty in Europe.
There are also plenty of grassroots signs out there that the economy isn’t in anything like the deep slump that we were seeing in ’08 and ’09. Unemployment has inched downward, particularly in pockets of the country.
I know this is purely anecdotal, but I was out and about over the weekend and I saw swarms of Average Joes and Janes roaring around on high-dollar motorcycles — part of the Americade celebration in Lake George.
I was also in Burlington, where Church Street was packed for the final day of the jazz festival, and the shops and restaurants were bustling.
Even tiny Westport NY was busy, with more shops reopened, and plenty of customers hustling in and out. Are these the trappings of malaise?
So here’s what I would like: I’d love for someone independent to paint a really accurate, detailed portrait of the state of the economy as it exists today.
Not what we fear might happen. Not our mood or our sentiments. Not our anxieties. I’d like to know what is actually happening out there for retailers, factories, small farms, workers, and so on.
We know, for example, that unemployment remains at 8.2%. But a quick glance at the numbers reveals that the details are really complex and textured.
Some parts of the country have much higher unemployment than others. And some groups (blacks, Hispanics, teenagers) are suffering far higher and more persistent unemployment than white men and women, or Asians.
I know that the politicians aren’t interested in this kind of shades-of-gray narrative. The Democrats want a simple “things are getting better” story.
Republicans want us to think that so long as a Democrat is in the White House we’ll keep teetering on a cliff.
But I suspect that the reality is more interesting, with slices of hopeful information, and some elements of real concern.
In particular, I’d like to know a lot more about the persistently unemployed, the 5.4 million Americans who are going half a year or more without finding jobs. (This accounts for about half of all jobless.)
Who are they? Why aren’t they faring better, even when compared with other jobless folks who are finding a way to get back into the economy?
Again, I know this is anecdotal, but let me end with a question:
Tell us what you are experiencing. Not your fears or anxieties, remember, and not your political sentiments, but your actual experience. How are you faring in the 2012 economy? How’s your business doing?
Are you getting more hours at work? Do you have a little extra money in your pocket, or are you barely squeaking by? As always, comments welcome.