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Charles D. Ellison

Charles D. Ellison

Posted: June 13, 2009 10:49 PM

THE POLITICS OF JUMP-STARTING


Recent announcements from the Administration concerning an "accelerated" 100-day Roadmap to Recovery may feed into the suspicions of political cynics over its pace. Without doubt, it's certain that the government's maddening, multi-trillion intravenous shot in the economic arm will provide some cushion of relief in some areas. Common sense only shows it. We're already seeing signs of it, stuck in traffic as 'shovel ready' gigs proliferate through clogged commuter arteries while infrastructure
construction ramps up. The White House waxes optimism, and the glow is prominent in Michael Cottman's Blackamericaweb.com appraisal ("White House Says Recovery Plan Has Created 150,000 New Jobs," 6.8.09):

"Thousands of African Americans are now taking advantage of President Barack Obama's $792 billion economic recovery initiative, of which $112 billion has been used to create 150,000 new jobs since Obama took office, according to the White House. Administration officials said new economic
resources in the areas of housing, energy and health care are now available for many African American communities from middle-class neighborhoods to those living in public housing."

Still, despite rosy Administration assessments, White House officials find the need to publicly "accelerate" the pace of recovery, announcing a new 100-day effort as touted in their blog on Monday :

"Some of these projects include creating and building 1,129 health care facilities, improving veterans' medical centers across the country, putting 5,500 law enforcement officers on the streets, and creating 135,000 education jobs. In total, the Vice President said 600,000 jobs will be created in the next 100 days."

However, one is pushed to ask whether or not that message is resonating with the public? Does crafted rhetoric match reality on cracked asphalt and the tension at the kitchen table? In the President's remarks on the road map effort, there is a carefully calibrated political calculus and
rather astute recognition of what is becoming the hot summer dilemma: "In the end, that's the only measure of progress, is whether or not the American people are seeing some progress in their own lives. And so although we've seen some stabilizing in the financial markets and credit spreads have gone down, we're seeing a reduction in the fear that gripped the market just a few months ago, stock market is up a little bit -- all that stuff is not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is making sure that the average family out there -- mom working, dad working -- that they are able to pay their bills, feel some job security, make their mortgage payments."

Always on the real, the President realizes that despite circulation of stimulus funds and pronouncements of a shorter-than-anticipated recession, unemployment figures continue to rise, recently highlighted by that GM bankruptcy soon to leave 20,000 auto workers jobless. We hyped the first 100-days of the Administration, but many of us scoffed at the tough road ahead over the next one hundred. The hustle to accelerate the recovery roadmap is a sharp political calculation to revive the enthusiasm of the first few months in a bid to jump start the dangerous lull of the summer. It's very rough out there on the streets, from the challenges of finding a job to the employers who are using the recession as an opportunity to trim payrolls and reduce overhead. The unfortunate political consequence for the White House is that, as we're heading further into the recession, the President's brand is on such matters as the GM bankruptcy and the rather peculiar 'jobless recovery' - hence, there must be internal concern over the political ramifications in 2010 and 2012. Should Republicans manage a fast cold-turkey withdraw from right-wing bloviation on fringe social issues, there is the potential for a politically damaging GOP response on the debt, unemployment and other critical fiscal issues. That could hurt Congressional Dems at the very least if voters are paying enough attention.

Is the debt, however, Obama's "Achille's heel" as prophesied by curmudgeon, play-hating Republicans in this recent Politico piece by Manu Raju ("GOP: Debt Will Bring Obama Down", 6.9.09)? Writes Raju:

"Republicans on Capitol Hill think they've finally found Barack Obama's Achilles' heel: rising public concern about government spending and the federal deficit. While Obama's overall job-approval ratings are up over the past month, a Gallup Poll out this week has a 51 percent majority of
Americans disapproving of the president's efforts to control federal spending and a slim 48 percent to 46 percent disapproving of his handling of the federal deficit."

It all depends on just how accurate those polling numbers are - and if people are actually paying attention to patently esoteric policy discussions on the federal deficit. It's just like the health care reform
debate: the desired level of momentum is diminished by the failure of elected officials and Beltway wonks to clearly articulate the options.

What can solidly work to the President's advantage is his ability to mass communicate. If he can dominate the economic conversation through aggressive attempts at transparency, it may help ease fears and give the public a sense that something tangible is happening. As one economist friend observed: "We're not suffering from a lack of money. The money is out there - even lost money goes somewhere. We're suffering due to lack of confidence." But, most troubling is that awful irritating and classist-driven conversation over unemployment as a 'lagging indicator,' socially detached economists and talking point pundits who would have us believe the 'jobless recovery' is a good sign. New America Foundation's Leo Hindery, Jr. chair of the Smart Globalization Initiative at the New
America Foundation, appears to cut through the "jobless recovery" myth:

"The U.S. economy lost 345,000 more jobs in May, and it's a sad commentary indeed when such a huge job loss is perceived by some pundits as a 'good sign' because we didn't lose even more jobs. All in all, an almost unbelievable 6 million jobs have been lost since the start of the recession in December 2007, when instead we should have been creating over the last 18 months up to 2.7 million new jobs just to keep up with population growth."

Hindery also argues in a May 2009 policy paper ("Jobs Solutions for our Jobless Recovery"):

"First, and most concerning, when we more accurately add to the 13.7 million officially unemployed workers at the end of April, the 14.8 million workers who are either underemployed - which means part-time of necessity [8.9mm] or otherwise marginally attached [2.1mm] - or in the so-called "labor force reserve" because they have abandoned their job searches [3.8mm], then the current effective unemployment rate is a staggering 17.8%, rather than the half lower official rate of 8.9%. In all, there are now 28.5 million effectively unemployed Americans, and yet only around 3 million job openings."

It defies basic macroeconomic theory to assume that recovery can take place without increased employment, which is the most reliable impetus for economic growth. To unveil this road map means the White House is keeping its ear to the asphalt - over time, the President's claim of inheritance
from the previous Administration, albeit correct, will become increasingly difficult. The stimulus effort must show signs of progress before public patience wears thin.