James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

How high unemployment undercuts Obama’s agenda

September 4, 2009

At the end of the 2000 film “The Perfect Storm”, a Gloucester swordfish boat captain (played by George Clooney) finally accepts that his crew won’t escape a monster hurricane in the North Atlantic. “She’s not gonna let us out,” he says as the trapped vessel moves from the eye of the storm and back into the raging winds.

The White House economic team can probably relate. The nation’s unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent in August, said the Labor Department, after dipping to 9.4 percent in July. “That drop in July had been too good to be true,” sighed Nigel Gault, the chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. Merely the eye of the storm, perhaps.

To be sure, the pace of monthly job losses is abating, falling to 216,000 compared with a high of 741,000 in January. It now also seems unlikely that the unemployment rate will hit a post-World War II high of 10.8 percent. Good news all. But the employment declines do continue nonetheless, with more than 7 million jobs lost since the recession began in December 2007

Also continuing to decline is President Obama’s approval rating, which has plunged to 53 percent from 61 percent during the past three months, according to an average of polls calculated by RealClearPolitics. Almost nothing poisons a president’s popularity like high unemployment.

And why think that the job market or the president’s approval rating will improve dramatically during the next year or so? Let’s assume a snappy recovery in 2010 with GDP growth of 3.5 to 4 percent. That’s the JPMorgan forecast. But despite a mild V-shaped recovery, the firm’s economists still see an average unemployment rate of 9.4 percent in the fourth quarter of that year.

Even the superbulls at First Trust Advisors, looking for 4.5 percent GDP growth in 2010, don’t see unemployment breaking much below 8.5 percent. Keep in mind that those rates are almost double what Americans have come to expect the past two decades. It’s going to seem like a jobless recovery to many voters.

The labor market isn’t going to let Team Obama out. Its troubles will continue to drain the president’s popularity and perhaps result in large losses for congressional Democrats in the 2010 midterms. If Obama still wants to pass big change from a position of moderate bargaining strength — and while he still has maximum muscle on Capitol Hill — it needs to be now. This would mean centrist proposals like healthcare reform that would expand coverage while also making it easier for individuals to purchase their own private insurance, or a climate change bill where revenue from carbon emission allowance auctions would offset payroll taxes rather than given away to companies or spent by government.

Rahm Emanuel, White House chief staff, famously said that you “never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” With the moment of acute economic crisis past and a long “muddling through” begun, the president’s time of opportunity is nearing an end.

Comments

“this was done by the wrong planning of the previous 8 years improper policies.”Someone is ignorant of the fact that Democrats were elected as a majority in 2006. Money is only spent by the Congress. WAKE UP!

Posted by styer | Report as abusive
 

But is’nt it so that, would the democrats have opposed the spending of the main part of the pre-crisis deficit (i.e. on the war in Iraq), they would have been marked as being unpatriotic or may-be even traitors?And, as far as te bail out for the banks is concerned, that was the only possibillity for the economy to sort of survive, if that had’nt come through the problems would still be there to a far bigger extend and then we would not have been given time to rebuild at all.So I think it was the best option for the Democrats to voted with the previous president in that case.Remains the big problem of export of work, did you see today’s info on this agency about the current deficit on the trade balance? (what are the main causes behind this deficit….?)The opposition is very good in turning facts around, see the lies about healthcare and the like (obama’s birth certificate) and then of course the lies that were part of the selling process for the Iraq war…and the political mess (trustworthiness) that followed.That money spent on supporting the economy should also be spent on products made locally, not on the other side of the globe at slave’s wages to increase profits for shareholders.If they would earn a decent wage out there and if their governments would look for improvement for the life of the poorest we would not have this problem. Everybody would be better ofBut of course in a free market economy we have to live with that or……should we do something about it?best regards,JB

Posted by Jens Bos | Report as abusive
 

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