By Alfredo Ortiz
Five years after the start of the financial crisis, America is in a "new normal" that isn't remotely close to the American Dream that existed just a half decade ago.
In his speech last week marking the fifth anniversary of the week that set off America's financial crisis, the president told the nation the policies he has enacted since then have arrested "the downward spiral and put a floor under the fall." He said his team has "worked to stabilize the economy and get it growing and creating jobs again" and "started pushing back against the trends that have been battering the middle class for decades ..."
He was speaking primarily of his economic stimulus plan, but also his health care law, tax policies, spending on experimental green energy, and the regulations he has implemented.
His remarks were full of encouraging words and noble intention. We all wish they were true, but the reality is far from the rhetoric. There is nothing stable about an economy that remains in the critical care ward. The evidence shows the middle class isn't enjoying the job opportunities that existed just five years ago, let alone what was available to them for decades before that.
The need for economic life support shows up in the unemployment rate. Beginning in 1988 and for two decades thereafter, at least two-thirds of working age Americans were participants in the labor force. That all changed in 2008. Along with a rising unemployment rate, millions of Americans left the workforce entirely. As of August, the participation rate had fallen to 63.2 percent -- a level of abandonment we haven't seen since 1978.
It masks a much worse unemployment rate. If we had the same percentage of working age Americans in the labor force today that we had just five years ago -- in October of 2008 -- then our current unemployment rate would be above 11 percent. You need to go back 65 years -- or more -- to find that many idled Americans standing outside the American Dream, gazing in.
What we have today is an unprecedented and historically catastrophic failure to provide jobs to the middle class.
There's also economic illness infecting the little bit of anemic job growth we have seen. And that, too, is of Washington's making. The health care law drives employers to create part-time jobs, and since the start of this year the vast majority of the meager job growth we have seen has been part-time work.
If that's the American Dream, it's more of a nightmare.
Likewise, while the president was selling this "new normal" as improvement last week, the Federal Reserve surprised us with an announcement that it would continue the zero-interest-rate policy that has been in place for five years. It's happening because the central bankers still don't see the growth we need. Nothing has been "stabilized" when giving money away for nothing has gone from being extraordinary to "normal."
The Federal Reserve is keeping it's foot on the gas because the president's stimulus plan has demonstrably failed the middle class and the economy. No "floor" yet exists to arrest what the President called our "downward spiral."
What we have today isn't recovery from crisis, but a nation that has learned to weather perpetual crisis. It speaks to the resilience of Americans -- we are capable of soldiering on through adversity. But we shouldn't accept crisis and failed government meddling as the new normal. And Washington shouldn't sell it as success when we're no longer surprised by the emergency medical attention constantly being applied to our ailing economy.
Job creators and the middle class will get us out of this ditch. But it won't happen because of Washington's words or deeds. Prosperity requires empowerment, not more meddling. In the place of stimulus, rules and regulations, entrepreneurs need less spending, lower taxes and more freedom to innovate.
We can't accept government interference, easy money and historically outrageous unemployment as evidence of success. We must demand more than the stability of perpetual crisis.
Mr. Ortiz is the president of Job Creators Alliance.